Chapter Two: The Trial
Sylvia and Gwen stood in their room after being told by Beatrice that they need to clean it up. They started by brooming and mopping the floor, then dusting the window and furniture. Sylvia wasn’t the neatest of girls but she was not a slob either. Gwen, on the other hand, was just a tad bit lazy. She didn’t pick up after herself right away. That is why she mostly got in trouble with Beatrice. It was funny most of the time, listening to the two of them bickering back and forth.
“Gwen, tell me more about the count.” Sylvia said as they folded up the blankets.
“The count likes to keep to himself.” She said. “Nobody knows a lot about him.”
“Where is his home?”
“You can not go and see him at his house.” Gwen said. “He is a grown man who lives alone, what do you think it would look like if you, a young woman went to go visit him? You can not afford rumors about you to be spread, especially on your trial.”
“Is he close to the king?” She asked.
“Sylvia, I do not know about these matters.” she said then looked at Sylvia. “Have you fallen for our count? Is that why you are so curious.”
“What?” Sylvia asked with a frown. “Of course not, I just met the man. Why would you think that?”
“Last I saw you, you were hiding behind a barrel spying on him.”
“I most certainly was not spying on him.” Sylvia said appalled as Gwen giggled at her.
“Your cheeks are red again.” Gwen said and ducked as Sylvia threw a pillow at her. “Why do you want to talk to him?”
“I want to talk to the king.” Sylvia said.
“The king, you know he lies sick in his bed. Nobody is allowed to visit, not even the count.” Gwen explained. “Why do you wish to talk to the king?”
“Gwenevieve, you ask too many questions.” Sylvia complained.
Gwenevieve shrugged her shoulders and left to the kitchen.
“Have you fallen for the count?” Sylvia mocked Gwen as she stuffed the blanket in the wardrobe.
It had been a couple of days since she had been in town and it was still peaceful. As much as she hoped they had forgotten about her she doubted it. They would never forget about her, about what she could do for them. They were wild and savage, out to destroy the peace and bliss in the world. If they caught her they would become unstoppable. She felt sick, knowing that the beasts were somewhat related to her, but she could never be like them. They were thought to be extinct, wiped off the face of the earth but they had fooled everyone. They attacked her village and stomped on it, like a child in the mud. The beasts felt no shame as they ripped the lives of innocent people into shreds. As they ripped her life into shreds, not even into shreds but until there was nothing left.
“Come we are having a feast for the traders that are arriving at night.” Gwen said. “We are to prepare for the occasion.”
“The traders?” Sylvia questioned as she followed Gwen out to the town hall.
“Yes, our town is one of the small amounts of villages that can grow soulberries. It is essential for any medicine and healing practice.” She explained. “The traders go out in the cold every winter, from town to town, village to village and sell or trade the berries. So we have a feast when they are to return.”
Sylvia looked at all the people merrily decorating the city, putting lanterns and bright colored ribbons around the town. Kids were carrying food and rations to the hall, helping the elders. Little girls were rehearsing their singing for tonight, their melodic voices reaching the ears of happy folks.
“You should help other ladies, so you are in their good books.” Gwen said. “If they aren’t fond of you and want you gone, they can ruin your trial period.”
“I will try my best to be good and helpful.”
“You don’t need to try, you already are.” Gwen said with a smile.
The day went by quickly, Gwen was helping Beatrice make her heavenly pumpkin pie, while Sylvia was out in the streets offering her help to anyone who needed it. The ladies were asking her to taste the food, making sure it was at the peak of perfection. She helped the children carry stuff that was too heavy for them. Soon all the hard work paid off when everything was set and ready in the town hall. Sylvia Gwen and the other girls of the town stood by the entrance with baskets filled with lilies. They were believed to be a sign of gratitude in the village. Their pure color and strong scent were part of the reason. As the traders entered with their galloping horses and carriages bumping in the snow behind them, they sprinkled the lilies on top of them.
Some of the men were playing fiddles, their music chimed inside the hall as the people were feasting. The cold winter air seemed to have become livelier as the cheerful sound of music traveled through it. Sylvia grabbed Gwen’s hand and took her in the middle where they danced on their feet to the music. The little kids joined in, they made a circle connecting their hands and spun. Sylvia continued dragging bystanders into the circle as they refused but gave in at the end. Smiles were etched onto their faces and laughter was drowning the music. Sylvia moved to the side to get a drink of water, dancing had been quite tiring for her. As she filled her glass with water from the pitcher, a familiar figure stood beside her.
“You dance pretty great.” Weston said.
“I guess I am not bad at it.” she said.
“Come, join us.” she said but he shook his head. “I won’t let you refuse.”
Before he knew it Weston was being dragged into the dancing people by the strange girl that had stumbled into their town. She had him by his hand and spun under it, her hair was moving and her arms were following the rhythm. He slowly gave in and followed her lead.
“I do not know how to dance.” he confessed.
“You don’t need to.” She said with a smile and spun into his chest then back out. “Let the sound guide you.”
Bobbing his head to the melody, he started to move his feet accordingly and smiled as she continued moving. She let go of his hand and took another bystander from the edge and dragged him in. For a moment he missed her hand in his, but he shook his head and made his way back, but was grabbed by another girl.
Sylvia was having the time of her life, the people were dancing and the music was getting faster. She could hear the song ending and decided to the one final move.
“Weston.” she yelled his name over the music and chatter. To her surprise, he heard her and looked up.
As the music went down she spun f gracefully from the side of the room, getting faster and faster with each step, until she reached Weston and fell backward into his arms as the music was put to an end. For a second her green eyes were fixed on his bright blue ones, she was breathing heavily, trying to catch her breath after her stunt.
“See, you can dance.” she said with a playful smile.
The crowd cheered and applauded at the performance, and once again Weston felt the absence of her hand as she stood straight up and made her way to the other side.
The rest of the night they were entertained by the girls of the village singing, and the drunken men that were embarrassing themselves. Sylvia hadn’t seen Weston after the dance, she kept glancing around the room, but she knew he was gone since his scent wasn’t around. Gwen kept looking at Sylvia with a strange look and an even stranger smile. Ignoring Gwen’s strange behavior she continued having a good time at the feast. Hse had tried the special pumpkin pie and hummed in delight, it was smooth and creamy, with a crispy crust, it was perfection. Like all nights, this night came to an end too, the parents with young kids had retired early, soon followed by the drunk men.
Sylvia stayed back with Gwen to help with cleaning up the mess. She swept the floors where food and dust particles had collected, Gwen used a wet rag to clean the seats. It was close to midnight when they were done. The girls carried their belongings back to the house and put them back in their rightful places.
“You were dancing with the count, were you not?” Gwen commented as they played in their beds.
“Yes, but other women were dancing by his side.” She said on her defense.
“He has never danced at any of the celebrations before.” Gwen said. “You had made him, and he agreed.”
“Is that such a strange occurrence?”
“Yes, yes it is.” Gwen said and Sylvia could imagine a smirk on her face.
“How many summers are you?′ Sylvia asked.
“Twenty. What about yourself?”
“You are young.”
“And you are old.” Sylvia replied with a snicker.
“You haven’t asked me about my father.” Gwen asked changing the subject to something a bit more serious. She had been preparing herself to answer the question when Sylvia would ask, but she never did.
“I had figured it out, people talk.” Sylvia lied, she had found out the truth the first day when she raced through Gwen’s mind.
“Hmm.” Gwen hummed. “He was a good father, and a good husband.”
“I don’t doubt that for a second.” Sylvia said. “You can talk about him, I’ll lend you my ear for the night.”
Gwen had opened her heart to Sylvia and told her of all the tales about her father. He was a trader and would bring all sorts of strange and peculiar items for her. She told Sylvia about how he’d had punched the man that broke her heart, and that he took her out to the bar and they danced for the rest of the night. She talked about the day she had gotten into a fight with her mother and he had taken her with him to trade, and they had picked out a pretty pendant to come and give to Beatrice. Gwen trusted Sylvia, she was like the sister she never had, someone she could tell all her secrets to.
“That is all about my father.” Gwen said.
“He sounds like he was a wonderful man.”
“Gwen, have you been in love?” Sylvia asked out of curiosity.
“I am, right now.”
“Who?” Sylvia sat up in her bed, surprised at Gwen’s confession.
“There is this man from a nearby village, he goes by Rowan.” Gwen said. “Oh Sylvia, he is beautiful, with his blonde locks and warm brown eyes. I haven’t known him for long, but I can feel myself falling.”
“Oh, Gwen that is great news.” Sylvia said. “Now you won’t be an old lady when you are— hmpf” Sylvia is cut off when Gwen threw a pillow across the room and in her face. They both paused and started to laugh, trying to be quiet so they didn’t wake Beatrice up.
As the sun rises Sylvia stirs in her sleep, the sun shines through the window, she felt the warm rays of the sun on her face. Slowly she sits up and gets out of the bed. She entered the bath before Gwen because Gwen took hours washing, she would be in and out in a second. She filled the wooden tub with lilac infused lukewarm water and stepped into it. She sunk in, the water rising to her neck, splashing a little bit of her jawline. She felt her muscles relax and the dirt swept off her skin, in the end, she rinsed the avocado oil off her hair and dried herself. She slipped into a new robe, and got out of the room, where Gwen was standing, her hands crossed over her chest and her eyes squinted at Sylvia.
“What? You take too long.” She protested as Gwen pushed past her and entered the bath.
Shaking her head Sylvia made her way to the kitchen where Beatrice had toasted bread with a side of eggs.
“How many eggs will fill you?” She asked Sylvia.
“One will do just fine.” She said as she sat down and Beatrice put the plate in front of her. “What are your plans today?”
“I am going to head to lady Malcolm’s house. We are going to pray for the good health of our king.” she said.
“The king, do you think he will come to better health?”
“Oh, I do wish.”
“Wish we all.” Gwen said as she entered the kitchen and stuck her tongue out to Sylvia. “Less than ten minutes.”
“Well, you only wanted to prove me wrong.”
“The two of you, act like proper ladies.” Beatrice said as she finished cooking. “You are like wild cats on the streets.”
“We are not.” the two of them said in unison then glared at each other and burst out laughing. Beatrice tried to hide her smile, but even she was amused.
After finishing breakfast and cleaning the dishes, Sylvia headed out for a small walk. The town was bigger than hers and she wanted to explore it all, with the feast and the conclave she hadn’t gotten that chance yet.
“Off for a walk?” Gwen asked.
“Have a safe trip.”
The snow began to melt outside, the sun had been shining brightly for days. Some streets were still slippery and covered in ice. She felt secure with the dagger’s inside her belt, it was tied tightly around her waist. She felt defenseless without her weapons, the gift her parents had given to her, the only item she had from them. When she went back after the savage creatures had attacked, the village was in ruins. Blood was smeared onto the ground, houses were smashed and the streets were filled with the ruins. Her home was burned to the ground, nothing left, only the black soot left from the wood. She shook her head from the bad memories. She was safe now, right?
“Ah, there she is.” She heard a familiar voice say.
She turned around to see Weston and another man beside him. At first she couldn’t make out who the man was, but after sorting through her memories she remembered. “Ulric.” she said out of excitement.
“How do you do, Sylvia.” He said as he grabbed her hand and kissed the back. “How long has it been since we had last met?”
“Quite a while.” She said unable to wipe the smile off her face. “How is your father?”
“He is strong, his illness isn’t the only thing keeping him weak.” he said. “It has taken a toll on his mind.”
“I’m sure time will heal him just fine.” Sylvia said not believing her own words.
“Am I not to be consorted with?” Weston asked standing beside Sylvia.
“Of course, how could I forget, good day to you Weston.” Sylvia said in mockery.
“Ah, to you as well.” he said. “How do you happen to know the prince?”
“The king was close to my parents.” Sylvia explained. “I have met Ulric in events at the castle here and there.”
“Speaking of them, I am sorry for their passing.” he said.
“It is alright,” she said and stopped not knowing what else to say.
Ulric couldn’t keep his eyes off Sylvia, she had grown into a beautiful woman in the time they had not met. Her gentle and kind nature hadn’t left her and had stuck with her. Weston had told him about a girl named Sylvia coming to their town. He had told him he would like to meet her, not expecting it to be the Sylvia he had known. He looked at her face when she talked, it brightened up, and her smile, it was breathtaking. Even as kids, he had been enchanted by her, maybe he had fancied her for most of his life. The three of them were walking to the tavern in the east of the city since Sylvia had nothing better to do, she had decided to join her. He was more than happy about her decision, but he didn’t miss the smile on Weso’s face, and as he thought closer, he saw that the two of them had connected. They were talking to each other more than to him. Maybe I’m imagining things, he thought to himself and let the worry go. He wanted to have a good time with his friends.
Sylvia was relieved at first to see Ulric, she thought she could tell him the truth about what attacked her village and he could tell the king, but then she realized that Ulric didn’t know of her true nature, of what she really was, only the king knew, and for the sake of the kingdom, she had to talk to him. She caught Ulric glancing at her, thinking it was because they met after a long time, she didn’t pay much attention to it. The two of them were going to the tavern, and she had decided to go along with them since she had no better plans to spend the day. Weston was more talkative and less reserved, maybe because he was good friends with Ulric, usually, he would be quiet and nod or hum once in a while in the conversation. Sylvia contemplated telling Ulric the truth, but it could backfire and she could be killed. No matter how good of friends Ulric and her were it didn’t change the fact that she was a monster, a beast. If she told the truth she would be none fort that after being executed, the king being sick wouldn’t be able to save her. She had no choice but to stay quiet.
“Have a drink.” Weston told Sylvia as he saw her distressed state. “I’ll help you relax.”
“’I can not.” She said. “I am to be on good behavior since I am on trial, if I drink and end up doing something foolish, it’s better if I refrain myself.”
“She has a point.” Ulric said taking a big sip of his rum. “Might I add she is a bit young.”
“Nobody is too young to drink.” Weston retorted then looked at Sylvia. “You have drunk before, right?”
“I may have.” she admitted sheepishly. “But only once.”
“You were born the same time as Ulric?” Weston asked and she nodded. “I am older than the two of you.” he said with a smug face.
“I think the drinks are starting to get to you.”
“You are only one summer older than us.” Ulric added to the debate.
The rest of the day the three of them spent in the tavern. Ulric ket telling embarrassing stories of Weston, and Weston of Ulric. It was back and forth, the two of them exposing each other. Sylvia had felt light like there was no burden on her, no tragic past to remember no nightmares to deal with, she felt free as she laughed in the tavern. As much fun she was having, by sundown, Sylvia decided to head home. It was late and she had promised to come back by sundown. She bid her farewell to Weston and Ulric, then continued to head home.
Dinner had already been set at the table as she entered the room, the smell of the fresh stew made her insides warm and fuzzy. “It smells amazing, Beatrice.” she said as she sat down.
“Dig in, while it’s warm.” She said.
Beatrice’s cooking had grown on Sylvia, she enjoyed it more than she thought she would. Her mother had been busy with running the village and being in charge that she never had time to cook. Her parents were loving and caring and they meant the world to her. Losing them had been hard on her, more than she thought. She saw their burned bodies in her sleep, they always screamed for help, their horrific screeches would ring inside her head.
“Sylvia.” she was brought out of her thoughts when Gwen called her. “You seem tired, lay down early why don’t you.” Agreeing with Gwen she made her way to the bed and slumped down on it, as soon as her head hit the pillow she fell asleep.
She found herself in the ruins of her village, the buildings were trashed and burned, people lay on the ground, their hearts missing from their chests. She walked further into the village where the sound of her footsteps was drowned by the agonizing screams of the people. The stench of burnt flesh and blood lingered in the air. Like being teleported she was now standing in front of what we were supposed to be her house. Two bodies were on the ground, burnt to a crisp, there rosy and soft skin of her parents was flakey and pitch black. The bodies of her parents started to move, they stood on their burnt feet, their mouth wide open as they screamed. This time she was teleported to the lake, she looked down in the water to see her reflection, the fangs that were contracted in her gums were visible, sharp like a blade, her green eyes were glowing as if a light had been lit behind them. Her reflections mouth opened, but hers was closed. The reflection repeated the same words “You are a monster, you are a monster, you are a monster, you are a monster, you are a monster.”
The words continued until her eyes opened. She sat up slowly in the bed, her body was sweaty and hot, her heart beating wildly, and her breath was uneven. After her breath and heartbeat returned to normal, she hadn’t stopped sweating. She quietly got out of bed and walked out of the room on her toes, so she didn’t wake Gwen. She put on her shoes and headed out for some cool and fresh air. After her intense nightmare she needed to cool her head and arrange her thoughts, she had had nightmares about the incident before, but nothing this bad. She sat on the steps in front of the house and drew her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. She rested her forehead on her arms and stayed in the bundled-up position.
She looked up when she heard mumbling, it wasn’t too far from her, and was getting closer. She got alarmed and wondered who was stumbling in the streets at such a time. As the noise of a person stumbling and mumbling got closer, she stood up and was shocked to see Weston. “Weston.” she said as she made her way to him. Upon a closer look, she noticed his bruised eye, and bloody hands, some blood had been splattered on his coat. “What happened?” She asked. “Are you alright? Did you get in a fight?”
“I won.” he said, his breath reeking of alcohol.
“You are drunk.” She said. “Come let’s get you home.”
Sylvia supported him as they walked to his house, if she were mortal she could’ve never supported his weight. She opened the door and entered his home, it was like most of the houses in the village, wooden and metal beams. She closed the door behind her and laid him on his bed.
“Where is your medicine?” She asked.
“You are breathtaking.” he slurred as he raised his hand and rested it on her cheek.
“I know.” She said removing his hand and placing it on his chest. “Now, that medicine.”
She stood up and looked through the cupboards until she stumbled across some herbs and bandages. She mixed the right herbs into a paste and applied it to his bruised eye and hand. After the cream had been absorbed into his skin she proceeded to bandage his knuckles. By the time she was done, he had grabbed a hold of her hand, clutching it tightly. She noticed a small cut on his blush lips. She put her thumb on the cut and felt his sharp inhale as she brushed the blood off. His hand raised up and slowly caressed her cheek, and then rested on top of it.
“You don’t seem to be feverish, just drunk.” Sylvia said standing up and releasing her hand from his grasp. “You should meet with the healer tomorrow.”
“You’re leaving?” he asked.
“Yes.” she said with a smile, shocked at his blunt question.
She had meant to ask him about what had happened, and who he fought with, but she knew he was too drunk to tell here. Her thoughts were consumed by him, the way he had said her to be breathtaking. She felt her face heat up and knew there was a layer of blush on top of them. She kept hoping that he wouldn’t forget this by morning, but she knew too well of how the drunk forget everything that took place the night before. She lay in the bed, the picture of his soft lips appearing in her mind.