I do not know who he was, or what he was. The only thing I could relate that monster-man with was death.
“Is it all true? What they are talking about Smallmav?” Juliana spoke in a low voice.
Old Avila scrunched her face and looked away, ignoring her. Smallmav was a borough to the southern border of the land. Rumours were circling that the monsters had re-appeared at a town Smallmav.
My fingers rounded the tip of the pruner in my hand. Although I did not make it obvious, I was most curious among the labourer girls in the castle. Working at the King’s castle meant confined life. There was no scarcity of food or drinks—just scarcity of other things that people outside the castle probably had... friends, family, gossips, excursions... fun and festivities and so on.
Sure there were lot of gatherings and festivities around the year... but only limited to the Alpha-King’s family. We were only allowed to peep as they relished.
There was supposed to be a feasting the next day too, in the memory of the Alpha-King, Bardolf Eloise’s 46th natal day. The Luna, Hersent Eloise was always keen on beautifying the extensive garden grown about the courtyard. It was necessary that we, the castle maidens, took the best care of her very loved, lush and exotic flower-plants and kept it pleasing to her eyes.
However, this morning, we were told that the feasting was cancelled by the Alpha-King, after the Knight of Smallmav had informed him about the mysterious deaths of folks residing by the Sortil bay.
Nevertheless, the Luna had wanted us to carry on the work in the garden.
Juliana, the adamant, scooted over the freshly pruned grass and neared the old woman in order to nag her more. “Grandmother?”
“Shut up, you silly girl,” Avila hissed making me jump out of my thoughts. I adjusted my silk headdress and continued to prune the plants on the courtyard.
I turned, hearing footsteps approaching from behind. Eda and Alvin were treading through the cobbles. Halting by my side Eda placed the stacked flower pots on the ground, and Alvin handed over the Hyacinth bulbs to me to plant.
I received it with a sigh and eyed the width of the courtyard that flourished with vivid colours. More than half of them were planted by me. Reason? There was a popular belief in the castle that I could grow daisies in a desert. Avila called it touch of the earth, I called it nonsense.
“Seven, I heard seven were found dead this early dawn,” Eda whispered as she settled on the grass and eased her legs. She was someone who couldn’t miss a chance to tattle.
Alvin took a quick glance at Avila, as she reached forward to pick up the shovel lying on the ground before she began. “All littered around the marsh,” she told under her breath.
“What is it?” Avila chided in her hoarse voice. “You either finish your prattle, or work. Better, work now and keep the talking for the lunch-time. A horse cannot pull while kicking.” The ratings from old woman made us straighten our backs for a split moment, and then bend it back again to work.
I began to dissemble the stack of flower pots. There were five of them. Alvin shovelled the mud into them successively. And although, my hands worked on setting the Haycinth bulbs, my thoughts ran back to Pearlhallow, where death had danced around me, splashing the red over the clear white frost, on a mid-winter evening. Even with all his barbarity it was his ruby eyes that sent unsettling shivers through my skin.
Seven, I heard seven were found dead this early dawn.
All littered around the marsh.
Has that monster-man returned for real?
No matter how heard I tried, I couldn’t shake myself out of those memories. His blood smeared vile smile flashed across my eyes. As the images got deeper in my mind, my shoulders became weak, palms began to sweat, and I dropped my arms abruptly.
While I trembled, swamped by the angst, I could hear Avila cry over to Eda. “There towards the right corner,” she motioned Eda to carry the finished pots towards the shade. “Hurry, girls, chop-chop!”
Taking in a heavy breathe in, I continued with the work. When I was done with the fifth pot, I rose to my feet, feeling sick and shaky. The garden looked vibrant with colours under the bright sun.
My eyes followed Eda as she scurried to the far right corner with the last Haycinth pot. She had planted the pots under the shade of the cerise-velvet flowering tree filled with the very rare brown stained crimson-velvet blossoms. They had always felt familiar, but now that I saw it. They appeared as a distinct reminder of the monster-man’s blood stained crimson clothing.
My palms moistened and turned cold. The disturbing images of my mangled family flashed across my eyes. I shook my head to get rid of the images. Peeling my eyes away from the cerise-velvets, I hurried my way inside the castle.
The menial labourers lived in the quarters bunched together around the bailey. Sitting on the raised mud mound on the yard in front of my tiny cabin, I watched the smooth-edged moon rising up the south-east bringing down the cold to the warmed earth of Eldervale.
The guards were in motion about the bailey as it was time to change the shift. Just as my thoughts were abandoning the moon and back to ruminating about the ruby-eyed man, my senses picked up someone familiar approaching from behind.
Prince Issac Quintin Eloise, firstborn of the Alpha-King and my friend from the Royal Eloise lineage, was pushing his lean but sturdy build as he shuffled down the narrow gap between the quarters. Ahh! the struggles he went through to stay out of the keen eyes of the castle-guards.
Quin’s dressing was nothing extravagant like those the rest of the Eloise Royals flaunted day in and day out. Linen was his preference. Maybe because he spent most of his time outside the castle, wandering the streets and woods. The castle feels suffocated, he always said.
With shaggy linen and low-priced wool, two-day stubble and sapped face, although as his outer appearance looked like he was common folk, he was a prince with a strong wolf bound to him by the magic of the land. For me, I was an Underling.
Underlings lacked the wolf in them as they were born without the ability or strength to transform into one, as I had understood it. We were the ones on the lowest point in the hierarchy of dominance in our world. Underlings like me were expected to do the odd jobs and live in penury.
There was no specific reason why one would be born with such inability. As much as the old theories went by, it was a genetic defect, due to which we were born underdeveloped or less fit than expected. It was told that this pecking order helped in maintaining balance within the territories.
That said, the wise Mages of the land did not seem to try to look further into it so as to find a cure. Why would they spend their time to solve a poor menial’s fate anyway, they would have been concerned if it was the Alpha-King’s business though.
We were same aged then. It was his humbleness and benevolence, and sometimes his poor humour that had caused the amity. It has been eight years since, and cannot remember a time he behaved like a proudly prince. I am the only one among the underlings that was allowed to call him Quin and not Prince Issac. I did not know why I was happy about that—it didn’t mean like I was treated any better than the rest of us.
“Moon watching, Marge?” Quin’s voice was mellow.
“It’s Ice moon,” I said, as if he didn’t know already.
Quin lowered his hood and smiled lightly. “Care some help”
I frowned. Even if it meant the end of the world, it wouldn’t stop Quin from running around the town and trying to impress the pretty girls there.
“They say there is a monster in Smallmav.”
Sometimes I seriously doubt the Eloise continuing their under him. “And you still want to roam the towns giving out hairpins to girls you meet.”
“They all love it.”
“Sure they do... I’d love to see how they react if they knew who made it.” I took the pouch from his hand.
Well, I wouldn’t be bothered a least bit if the Eloise reign declined to non-existence. Before Bardolf Eloise and his three brothers conquered the packs inhabiting across the vast island called Farmaw and laid hold across its length and breath, Farmaw was split into different tribal wolf-packs, minding their own territory and livelihood. Some packs had close bonds, few raged with animosity against each other, and some others spent years bickering over a piece of land or a stream of water.
But when the Eloise came form the far north-east peninsula, they marched down along with their horde of mages and magically created monsters in order to defeat the Alphas of the packs in the mainland. After their triumph, the territory of each pack was made into a borough. The Alphas who bowed to the Eloise overlordship were named as the Alpha-Knights of the particular borough, expected to serve the Eloise dutifully, while those who stood their ground were eventually mangled by the magical monsters.
“Not possible,” said Quin. “I am a well-known craftsman in the town, you see.”
I guessed it was a fake identity he used when he wandered outside the castle unguarded.
“Quin, the pinmaker,” he said, and laughed at his own joke.
Quin, the clown, I thought.
I unfastened the chords of the pouch and poured the contents on my lap. Pearls, jade and tourmaline beads tangled with nickel coil, filigree and hair-sticks rolled out. Among them, something silvery-grey caught my eyes. It was a Mitzel stick.
“Is it...” I dragged in uncertainty and mild surprise.
Quin smiled ear-to-ear. “Mitzel, yes.”
I chuckled, wondering who he would give a hairpin made of the pricey Mitzel metal.
“A token from a merchant from the east-coast,” he added, answering the next question that rose in my head. Mitzel was considered exquisite in the land and presenting the hair-sticks made from the metal was a common among the wealthy. The merchant was surely fawning over the future King.
“You know it doesn’t suit me,” he said touching the cropped fringes of his blonde hair. It was conventional for men with dominant a wolf to grow long hair. Quin loved to defy the norms. “Nor I have a mane to put it to use. Let someone who’d be really happy to wear it, have it.”
“How will you choose that girl, then?”
“I see a girl, I grab a pin. The lucky one will get it,” he shrugged.
Breaking our talk, a sudden the blowing sound of a winding horn came from the distant gate-house. It blasted three times.
“A visitor,” Quin stated discerning the count of the blast.
Murmurs rose in the bailey. Menial families stepped out of their cramped cottages to take a look at the incoming visitor. As they began to gather on the yards, Quin put his hood back on. Moments later, the huge iron gates rumbled to open. A man trotted in on his Mashakir stallion. Quin walked forward in order to get a closer look at him. I followed him.
The visitor was dressed in woollen tunic and trouser, added with a heavy-looking, coal black woollen cloak that was the same shade as his Mashakir. The fur-trimmed hood was lowered revealing his braided chestnut mane that flowed down his shoulders. He kept no visible weapons and looked like he hailed from a long-winter land.
“So it is him,” Quin whispered. “The Alpha-Knight of Demonmere—old Higansville. His real name is Mighell Thorne, but folks prefer to call him Demon.”
My guts knotted at the mention. The blurred, past memories passed my mind for a fleeting second. Higansville was my old home. Well, my only home. I have not found a new one yet.
Quin continued, “His father was a capable Knight. Tales of his valour in binding the unfettered Empousa, several years ago, is well-known among the folks to this time—”
“So is his betrayal.” I sucked the cold air of the deepening night.
Before the Eloise invasion, there was Higanville pack. A pack that dared to challenge the Eloise brotherhood and made them doubt their own ability. The Higanwolves were lead by their valiant Alpha, Eduart Tamsin, but defeated by the deception of the Alpha’s second, Lester Thorne.
The stories of betrayal of Lester Thorne for his greed of power and wealth are fabled, at least in Higansville. And despite his best efforts to alter the scenario, everyone knew him as a man who stabbed his own Alpha in the back for his own survival.
I shuffled forward. As the Mashakir passed by us, the Knight jerked his face to take a glance at the gathered, curious folks. His face was suave, but stern and prideful.
His frame was strapping and had an air of robust energy men with a dominant wolf possessed. A jolt of repulsion passed through me. I doubt he has any idea about this, but we both had a common past. A sad one though. It sure made the present dismal for me.
Lester Thorne was his father. Alpha Eduart Tamsin was mine. Both long dead, one in the hands of the enemies, another in the hands of fate. But the tales never perished.