Life After Life

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Chapter 9 - Everose

I started to march unsure of where I was really going until I reached the tea room, where my mother would often sit during the day. I opened the doors and saw that it was completely empty except for a maid dusting the fireplace. She stopped what she was doing at the sight of me and sank into a deep curtsy.

“Could you fetch me lunch? I am starved.” I looked to Axel who shook his head.

“It is not a guard’s place to eat with a Princess.” He said. I intended to make a joke about how Jordan would sneak pastries with me, but it died on my lips weighing heavy in my mouth. The maid slipped out as I turned and walked around the room.

A portrait of my mother hung above the fireplace, the black slip of fabric pulled back, so you could see the portrait again. She looked perfect, like a queen should. I sighed and pulled the fabric over the painting once more. As I walked to the windows to look down on the courtyard, I remembered in a past life that my mother died once before. This one felt more real than that death, maybe because it was so long ago. Axel cleared his throat and brought me out of my memory. I looked at him now, he stood on the other side of the window looking up into the sky. His blonde hair curled around his jawline, he wore it looks around his shoulders. I realized I knew nothing about him.

“I heard you were very brave the other day, during the attack,” I said.

He stayed quiet for a moment “I was only performing my duties, Princess.” his voice was deep.

“What does your family do for a living?” He glanced at me seeming almost surprised,

“This isn’t an interrogation. The only thing you need to know about me is that I will protect you.” he huffed and turned towards the door “I’ll be outside when you are ready to leave.” he slammed it closed and I jumped from the impact.

I turned back to the window and placed my forehead against the glass, not understanding anything about today. I heard the door open slightly and I turned around ready with an apology for Axel, but it was just the maid from earlier with a tray of my lunch. She walked over to the table and started to set everything out.

“Your mother was an amazing woman.” she said, quietly.

I stared at her and wondered what kind of relationship that they had. The maid finishes and laid a white napkin in my lap.

“Ring the bell if you need anything else, your highness.” She curtsied and left the room.

I took a bite out of a pastry, raspberries tickled my taste buds and it reminded me of Jordan, as soon as the thought was in my head, the pastry turned sour in my mouth and I spit it out. I closed my eyes and laid my head on the table. catch the scent of wood and think of the approaching fall. It would still be a few months before snow fell but a chill in the air was bound to happen any day now. I could remember very clearly playing in the snow as a little girl. Veryan & Hayther chasing each other with snowballs as I hid. I let myself get lost in the memories in my own mind. When the door opened and closed I sat up prepared to apologize to Axel but instead found Siel hobbling in.

“The keys, the keys.” he muttered to himself, seemingly unaware that I was here. “Unite, unite, unite.” he mumbled again as he looked for something.

I smoothed my skirt and cleared my throat, he jumped obviously startled. “Hello Siel.” I smiled pleasantly as he just stared at me. Finally, surprise cleared away from his face as genuine happiness lit it up.

“Princess!” He came over and takes my hands in his “Have you remembered anything yet?” Panic starts to ebb at the edge of my mind, does he know that I lost the book?

“You are the key. Don’t forget it.” I sit their fear coursing through my veins. The words that Eric had said a few nights ago echo in my head. I was about to ask Siel what he was talking about when he looked on the table at my lunch and suddenly he stands up almost straighter.

“Oh! I’m late!” and he scurries from the room.

I can feel my chest start to tighten as panic sets in, was this the beginning of how I was going to die again? I wouldn’t make it another year, I would live in constant fear that my kingdom could come under attack again or that my father would have to suffer losing me as well. I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t steady myself. I tripped and fell to the floor the table cloth and my lunch coming down in a loud bang. I heard Axel’s voice calling my name out, but the panic had already latched its talons around my mind, and I couldn’t keep consciousness.

I opened my eyes to my room, Veryan had drawn the curtains so only a little light could filter in. I sat up and looked to see if I was alone, Veryan’s blue eyes were already staring back at me from the chair next to the bed. “How are you feeling?” she asked me, worry etched across her face. I just sighed and laid back down.

“I’m fine, it wasn’t an” I paused hating using this wording “an episode. Just a panic attack.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” I shook my head and instead I said, “Can’t you, Hayther and I just runaway and live in the forbidden forest?” Veryan went stiff and didn’t blink.

“You think that you and I could survive out there? Hayther maybe but not if he was trying to take care of us, we would perish before night fell”.

I stared hard at the ceiling, I did not agree with her answer and hated to think of myself as weak.

“Did Sara get my note about the outfits I need?” I asked as I sat up again and swung my legs over the side of my bed, Veryan shook her head

“Though Sara was a little puzzled why we all need them.” I looked to Veryan and smiled.

“Today I met with my mother’s counsel, well I guess my council now and I told them how I wanted to learn to defend myself” I paused as a smile dawned over Veryan’s face “And I requested that my lady in waiting and two handmaids be taught as well.”

At this she squealed and jumped up into a fighting stance, one arm stuck out as though holding a sword already and the other tucked behind her back. I just laughed and reached an arm out to push her. She fell over slightly and gave me a hard look as she pulled on a piece of my hair “Ouch!” I cried out.

“But perhaps with you fainting earlier this should wait?” the concern returning to Veryan’s voice. I waved her worries away and stood up to prove that I felt fine. This invigorated Veryan and she gave me a curious look.

“We need to do something with your hair,” she said ushering me over to my vanity. I sat down in front of the mirror and let Veryan try different styles. A knock came from the door after some time, Veryan left and came back with a note instructing me to get my three maids together and meet in the courtyard before dusk. Veryan decided on a simple braid that fell to the middle of my back.

Suddenly Sara busted through the door, a petrified Eliza trailed after her. Sara looked wildly around the room and once she spotted me she said calmly,

“What is the meaning of this?” she held out the trousers, they were made from black material and look simple enough. I was put off by how calm Sara was acting, normally anything would put her into a tiff. My eyes caught Eliza behind Sara shaking her head no.

“They are trousers Sara, surely you are bright enough to know that.” I replied coolly. Sara’s face turned red.

“Why in the bloody name of the goddess Everose would we need trousers?”

“So that you can be more comfortable tonight.”

“What are we doing tonight?!”

“Learning how to defend ourselves of course.” With this she was silent for a moment her hands shook.

“I think you have lost your mind since your mother’s passing. It is not appropriate for a lady, no less the princess to be wearing trousers and learning to fight?” her voice was so loud now that it hurts. I tried to keep my cool, but it was slowly wearing.

“Sara please be rational, I am just concerned for your safety that is all. I would never want to see any of you die because a guard wasn’t here to protect you.”

“If I am meant to die then I will! I refuse to go!”

“Sara please I-”

“NO! It is in descent and despicable” She turned towards Veryan and Eliza now her short hair flying “If you go with her or encourage her at all I will make sure that you are quickly replaced.” Eliza actually flinched from her as if she has been slapped. Finally, my patience broke.

“Sara” my voice loud and regal now, I tried to imagine how my mother would be handling this “I am not asking. I demand that you, Eliza and Veryan learn how to defend yourselves” I thought for a second and added “and wear the trousers or else YOU will be replaced.” Sara’s face had gone a pasty white, all the blood leaving it since I had never talked to her in that way. She gave a swift nod, found Veryan’s and my outfits out of the pile in Eliza’s arms, threw them on the bed and left quietly. Eliza followed her out.

I reached for mine first and Veryan quickly let me out of my dress. I slipped the blouse over my head, the sleeves were pulled tight near my elbow and then flowed out allowing me to move freely, the trousers were even more liberating, my legs felt light as a feather without the weight of all the layers of a dress on them. I looked to Veryan who was having the same reaction as I was. We both started to run and jump around my room feeling weightless.

“Why are we not wearing these all the time?” I asked breathlessly. Veryan gave me a knowing look before doing a twirl and kicking her leg straight out, she finished in a graceful arch.

“Because you are a princess, for me on the other hand this would allow me to do my job far more efficiently.” she leapt away kicking her legs much higher than a dress would have allowed. We pranced around the room until I sat breathless on the floor.

A sudden thought occurred to me.

“Veryan, you are so graceful!” I cried out. She looked at me from hooded eyes and gets a devious smirk on her face, she started to run towards me and I feared that she was going to tackle me when there comes a firm knock on my bedroom door. Veryan stopped mid pounce and reluctantly slinked to the door. She opened it and came face to face with Axel, he looked her up and down and I saw her spine go stiff.

“You look good” his eyes wandered over to me, but he didn’t look at my body his eyes never actually broke contact with mine.

“I’m glad to see that you are okay, Princess.”

I suddenly felt very small.

Veryan chirped up “Is there something we can help you with?” Axel shook his head as if to clear his thoughts and said “The instructor is ready to meet with you in 10 minutes. But you may head down now if you want.”

Veryan turned to me.

“I am going to get Eliza and Sara and make sure that they are ready to go.” I nodded and said a silent prayer that Sara had calmed down.

I started to make my way down to the courtyard feeling awkward with Axel.

“I’m sorry for what I said earlier. I didn’t mean to offend you.” I said looking away quickly. Axel was quite for so long I feared he wouldn’t reply finally in his deep raspy voice he said,

“I’m sorry.”

As we walked down the stairs, their creaks echoing behind us, I get a sudden feeling of being watched, I looked around and saw a tapestry hanging on the wall similar to the one that was hanging in the library. Axel saw that something caught my eye and stared at it with me.

“Do you think they were ever real?” he asked me, I shook my head no and continued down the stairs, my heart beat just a little faster, for a reason that I wasn’t sure.

I kept running my hands down the trousers unsure of what to do with them since they didn’t have to hold my heavy skirts. I stepped down off the stairs and continued down the hall toward the guards stationed near the door leading to the courtyard. Axel nodded to one of the guards who had a fat belly and a large red mustache sitting high on his lip. He swung the door open and held it for me. I looked up into his brown eyes. He continued to look forward and not make eye contact. Dusk laid heavy on the land and the air seemed to shimmer where the torches were lit. The sun was setting, the last few rays reaching out above the mountains to our west. The stars had just started to gently twinkle.

My instructor stood near one of the rose bushes that lined the courtyard. He was staring at the dying sun as the last ray, seemed to surround him. It blocked his face as he turned towards me, and when he stepped out of the sunlight I realized it was Hayther. I looked at Axel confused.

“Thank you for taking care of her today, I hope she wasn’t too much trouble.” Hayther said with a chuckle.

Axel smiled, a big boyish grin and said, “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

Then he walked to the wall and leaned against it, apparently staying to watch. Veryan came bounding out of the doors, the large guard from earlier barely getting it open in time. Sara followed out her head held high, her short hair tucked behind her ear. You could tell that she was uncomfortable in the trousers, she was used to having heavy skirts on, so her hands keep reaching to pick them up. So instead she grabs the sides of trousers. Eliza following behind her gives me a hesitant smile with a little shrug. Her red hair curls were wild and loose around her face. I looked back to the door and saw the guard looking at us, he quickly shut the door. Eliza blushed a little.

“He’s my older brother, and he doesn’t necessarily approve.” guilt built in my heart, and doubt started to cloud my head, maybe I shouldn’t make them do this.

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder I looked and saw it was Veryan, she smiled and gave me a gentle squeeze.

“We need this, and it’s wonderful that you care about us this much to include us.” I took a deep breath and turned to Hayther.

“Shall we start?”

“No don’t hold it like that, hold it firmly,” Hayther corrected Eliza’s hand that was holding a small wooden dagger, no sharper then the wood for a babe’s cradle.

I watched her stance as he told her to spread her feet apart and bend her knees more.

“Keep your arm near your body so you can block the attack.” he went to punch her stomach and she blocked his hand away and got a hit in with her dagger to his neck.

They had been at it for well over an hour and that was the first hit she had gotten. Her blouse stuck to her sweaty back, but she smiled in triumph and took a seat on the bench near the pink rosebush, where Sara was already sitting after her turn, sweat still clung to her forehead. Hayther shook his head and looked to Veryan. She glanced at me and leapt into the middle.

“Now show me your stance,” Hayther instructed.

She got into the perfect stance, her legs shoulder width apart her hand holding the dagger, was steady. Hayther walked over and picks up a wooden sword that I hadn’t seen before. Veryan’s eyes were not on Hayther so she didn’t see him when he turns and sprints toward her, sword held high, at the last second, she turns and sees him. She jumps out of the way avoiding the blow. Hayther caught off guard that she moved, stumbles for just a moment. Veryan saw her opportunity and attacked him in the back, driving her wooden dagger down and pinning Hayther to the ground.

Veryan got up and dusted her pants off.

“Your turn.” she handed me her dagger and then went to sit on the bench. I stood in front of Hayther, my legs felt awkwardly bent. I lifted the dagger and hold it out towards him, as if I am offering it to him. He slowly walked around me analyzing my stance.

“Princess, please relax a little. You won’t be able to react quickly enough if someone attacks.” I took a deep breath and let my shoulders relax. My legs didn’t feel as stiff anymore. I picked up my feet and turned to Hayther. He thrusted a fist towards my side and I blocked, countering with an attempted jab to his chest.

“Good, now you don’t have to move your feet so much, try sliding, make your fighting one solid motion.” He said as pulled a wooden dagger from his boot and swung it towards my legs, I jumped back, and it narrowly missed. I slid one foot then another forward as I swung my dagger trying to land a hit. Sweat dripped into my eyes and I swiped it away quickly trying not to get distracted. Hayther saw my moment hesitation and closed the distance between us in one step. I felt his dagger pressed up against my skin right where my heart was.

He leaned in close and said, “Never get distracted.” He stepped back and wiped his forehead. I looked up at the sky and see the moon has fully risen now, the stars blazing all around it. Even though the sun hasn’t been that long, there was a slight chill in the air. No wind gently swaying the branches of the trees, it was just silence.

I looked to Hayther who had his back turned to me. A sudden pain ignited in my brain, I fell forward my hands scraping on the ground, my vision went black. A pair of emerald green eyes glowed at me from the darkness that had stabbed into my brain. I gasped as my head felt like it broke into two. I slumped forward my arms collapsing underneath me. I braced for the hard stone to hit my face, but it never came. The pain slowly subsided and I could hear Veryan’s voice calling out my name. My eyes fluttered, and I looked up into Hayther’s. His arms wrapped around my body.

“Everose? Stay with me.” His eyes were boring into mine begging me, I shook my mind awake. But the stifling darkness was trying to push me down and carry me away. Finally, with a large breath I sat up. My breathing and vision returned to normal and I ran a hand down my braid making sure that it was still in place. My hands stung from where I fell and scratched them.

I felt Hayther’s chest against my back, since he hadn’t moved away at all, his breath hot on my neck.

“Everose, just take deep breaths, you’re okay.” he took a deep breath himself and quietly said “I’m here.”

I looked up and saw Veryan standing over Hayther and I, Eliza and Sara hovered quietly behind her, all three wearing worried expressions.

Eliza said in a small voice.

“Perhaps the fighting was too much for you, princess?”

I sighed, exasperated “No, I’m fine.”

Hayther helped me to my feet as Sara tskeds in the background.

“I’ll make sure to have another servant bring some snacks before training tomorrow.” My heart lifted a tad at the thought that I would not have to demand Sara come again tomorrow.

“Yes” I agreed “I think that would be helpful, thank you Sara.” I looked over my shoulder at Hayther’s hand on my back still from when he had helped me up. He looked down and realized where his hand was, he took a step away from me.

When he moved away I feel an emptiness of where he just was. I saw Axel quickly return to his post by the wall, trying to act nonchalant, but before he could hide his emotions from me, I saw the anxious look and the fear in his eyes. Veryan and I walked towards the door, I heard her in the background muttering about getting me a warm bath ready and that she had already sent Eliza and Sara to prepare and bring me some pastries and tea. I looked back and see Hayther staring up at the sky, the same way that the sun went down over the mountain earlier. He didn’t turn towards me and catch my eye like he usually did. Instead Axel stepped into my view and completely blocked Hayther out. As the doors shut behind us I realized I had never felt trapped before in my life, and suddenly I did.

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