Crickets chirped outside, and the cool night air danced through her open window. The voices of the gardeners echoed up. Their tools clinked together as they put their equipment away for another day.
Liora’s arm was starting to fall asleep, but she didn’t want to move. The little boy was curled into her side, suckling his thumb while she leaned her back against the wall near the bookshelf near her window.
Druce had fallen asleep halfway through the third story, but he had been trying to stay awake to listen to her before that. Foe had come by to drop the little boy off. The Steward had been called to deal with an issue on the outskirts of the city. Liora didn’t refuse the man’s request. The little boy wasn’t the first child she had taken care of. Plenty of younger children had been left at her iznata’s hut while their parents were being cared for by the old woman. Liora usually entertained the children if she wasn’t needed inside the hut.
Druce was one of the easiest children she had dealt with. He was quiet and listened: something Liora appreciated in young children.
The sky outside was dark inky-blue. Candles were lit along the windowsill. It was almost late enough for her to go to sleep, although she couldn’t since she was supposed to care for the little boy until his parents returned.
Wiggling her fingers, she had to move her arm, even if that meant it would wake the boy. She inched it up from behind his back, making sure his head was still nestled into her armpit. The boy shifted slightly before he slid down, putting his head on her lap.
Maybe it was better to move him to the bed. The boy would need to walk to the bed himself, but she could help him crawl up onto the mattress since it wasn’t that high. It was a better choice than leaving him sleeping on the floor.
Looking at the door, Liora wanted to know what was happening outside. A Chijin servant had come to deliver her and the boy dinner, but no one else had arrived. Foe hadn’t returned, and Caldor hadn’t popped by. It was like the adults had forgotten about them.
Marcia should’ve returned by now. Liora sighed.
“Druce,” Liora gave the little boy a shake. He grumbled and stirred before glancing up at her with a lazy eye. “Let’s put you to bed.”
“Nooo,” Druce whined, rubbing his eye, “I not tired.”
“It’s - I’m not,” Liora corrected, “and you are tired - now come on.”
She helped the boy to his feet, taking him by the hand to lead him to her bed. He crawled up onto the mattress, only needing her help to boost him over the edge. The boy didn’t put up too much of a fight. He yawned before collapsing with his feet hanging over the edge of the mattress. Liora slid him up the bed, over the blueberry coloured silk quilt until his head rested on one of the five pillows that decorated the headboard.
Folding the quilt over the little boy, Liora didn’t know what to do with herself. The boy had been her distraction, but now she was left to find something to entertain herself.
Walking back to the bookshelf, Liora admired the titles of the books. Harwo’s History of Gaitan & Theory of the Isle of Koft. Her iznata had her read a chapter a day for almost a month when she was seven. It didn’t have any colorful pictures, just maps and sketches of people.
A Detailed Guide to Your First Garden. That explained itself and she was sure she knew enough from working in the gardens back in Morza than reading a book.
Margo’s Tales of Derm. The book had been a gift from her iznata for her ninth birthday. It hadn’t taken her long to read through the thin text. The book was filled with fantastic tales about the heroes of Derm, like Har the Gryphon Guardian who flew across to the Isle of Kings to slay the last giant that threatened the Dermite settlers on the coast.
All these books and nothing appeared remotely new.
Looking at the door, Liora wondered if she could leave the room. The little boy slept, and surely if she informed one of the servants in the hallway, they would take over care of the little boy. They couldn’t get upset at her for leaving when there was so much more to explore in the gigantic fortress. The Detress hadn’t told her she had to stay in the room. The woman had just left her there.
Walking over to the desk in the center, Liora examined the small drawer beneath the lip of the desk where the chair rested. The drawer, aside from a pencil, was empty. There wasn’t even a scrap of paper to leave a note. Caldor should have left her the almanac to translate. At least she would have had something to do.
Taking a deep breath, she couldn’t stand being stuck in her room any longer. There were other activities to do and places to explore outside. Maybe she could visit the garden, or see what the lower level of the castle was like.
Peering into the hallway, she looked around for a servant. No one was there and there was no sound of footsteps in the halls. Surely she could find someone that would watch the little boy.
Closing the door carefully as to not make a noise, Liora wandered down the arched halls. There were oak doors leading to different rooms, each closed so she couldn’t explore. The torches on the walls flickered in their iron holders, while suits of armor lined the walls. Sky blue and silver tapestries with the gryphon and sun hung from wooden beams under the archways. She felt like an ant in these halls.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dragon. Liora rubbed her hand against her upper arm. The caves in Morza weren’t this large, but the dragons thrived in the crevasses.
Liora came to the end of the hallway. It was a dead end. She turned back around and began heading back to her room. There came the sound of pitter-pattering feet at the top of the hall which led to the atrium. The footsteps had been from the Chijin servant who had brought them food earlier that evening.
Hurrying down the hall, Liora spotted the woman duck into another hallway at the farther end of the walkway that cut across the atrium.
Liora scurried across the walkway and into the hall where she had seen the servant disappear. It was another hall, just like hers, filled with doors and torches. This hall had a navy carpet down the middle with rosemary sprigs and spearmint. They gave the hallways a pleasant smell. The servant was probably in one of the rooms, though none of the doors were open. Just as she was halfway down the hall, the servant reappeared.
“Excuse me,” Liora choked, seeing the small woman hurry around a corner.
Chasing the servant, Liora began climbing the steps up to the next level. The narrow stairwell gradually grew lighter as she climbed the worn stone steps to the second floor. The hallway atop the steps was plain in comparison to the others, with only paintings of stuffy men and torches in the basic grated cast iron holders nailed to the support beams that skipped down each side of the hall. There were only two doors, one on each side. At the end, Liora could see it opened up into the atrium again, with yet another walkway.
Dermite architecture is odd. She thought, rubbing the top of her arm. This one castle was able to fit all of Morza within it, and yet this was only one building. How many people lived in these halls? Why did they need so much open, useless space?
Thinking about turning back to return to her room, Liora heard the familiar haunting noise. The scream she was told to ignore. The wavering cries made her chest ache, and she took a step down the hall.
So much pain, she could see the images of the boy clasping the sheets and eyelids pressed tightly shut; his body writhing, unable to find relief. How was she supposed to ignore such screams when her iznata had told her to ease the suffering of others? If she turned away and ignored the boy, what would Naygu think of her?
Slinking down the hall, the scream resonated from the room to her right. No one had arrived to tend to the boy when she had finally stopped to stand in front of the door. Were they really going to just leave him to scream? How cruel were they to let that occur?
Reaching for the metal knob, Liora turned the handle and opened the door just a crack. The screams were much louder now with the door open, as she peered inside. The room was huge. The ceiling was at least twenty feet high, while the windows were about ten. There was a balcony, which overlooked the gardens, that was open, allowing for fresh air to enter. A king sized bed sat on the far right side, directly across from a cabinet on the left. A fire flickered in the heath beside the cabinet, filling the room with a warm orange glow.
No one else was there: only the boy who was screaming from the bed. Maybe she could calm him? There were methods asides from plants that could help with pain. Naygu had taught her some, and she had had plenty of practice with helping those in her village. Surely no one would mind her help if she could ease the boy’s pain.
Sneaking into the room, Liora closed the door before making her way towards the bed. She could see now that there was a strange padded chair against the inner wall, she hadn’t seen upon her first view. A pear-shaped string instrument rested beside the chair, a layer of dust on both.
Making her way to the side of the bed, Liora held her breath at the sight of the boy. Never had she seen someone so emaciated. Naygu wouldn’t have allowed someone to suffer like this.
The boy’s screams changed back to a wavering cry as he looked at her. The corners of his eyes winced and he clutched the sheets with his bony fingers. There was a glass of water and a bottle of golden liquid on the bedside table. Likely the medicine Caldor had brought back from Bay’s Lake. It was unfortunate that the medicine wasn’t working as well as the old sage had hoped, when they had briefly discussed the prince on their flight to Demor.
Running her fingers through his knotted ginger hair, she slid her fingers down to rest on the bridge of his aquiline nose. Gently in a circular motion she rubbed the bridge for a minute before moving her hands to rest on either side of his head near his temples. With her thumbs, she continued the circular motions, using her thumbs to apply pressure on his temples, she used her other fingers to massage the back of his head and neck.
“Shh,” she whispered, unsure if the boy could hear her, “listen to my voice. I need you to focus on your breathing.”
Liora heard a break in the cry. It was brief but it was noticeable. She continued to massage his temple and neck, while she watched the boy’s chest rise and lower.
“Breathe in,” she took a breath through her nose, trying to have him copy her, “breathe out.”
Liora heard the boy pause again as he breathed in, before she heard him scream, releasing the breath. He was trying. She could at least see that.
“All right,” she moved her hands to massage his neck and shoulders, “you can hear me, that’s good. What I need is to know where the pain is. I will move my hands and when I am close, breathe in. Do you understand?”
The boy didn’t answer her, but she noticed the pause in his scream when he breathed in. That was a good enough answer for her.
She massaged his shoulders, his left and right arm. She massaged his fingers and palms. Her hands danced along his sides, his waistline and hips. When she came to his right leg, she heard the slight pause in his scream.
Pulling back the blanket, Liora couldn’t see anything wrong with his leg aside from atrophy. His leg hadn’t been moved.
Massaging his thigh, Liora could feel the tightened muscle. It was shaking and strained; not just anyone would notice that unless they were looking for it. The tightened muscle led to the boy’s knee where she could feel a knot that pulled the muscle in his calf. It would have been easy to miss in a normal examination. Her fingers were pressing hard into the boy’s muscle to feel the sudden difference. Had his screams really been caused by something as simple as a locked joint?
“I’m going to bend your leg,” Liora warned the boy. “This may hurt, but it could relieve the pain. Do you understand, kezt?”
The boy paused his scream as Liora moved to rest the boy’s foot on her chest. He wasn’t strong enough to do this on his own, but he was light enough that she could help him. She slid her hands under his knee, locking her fingers to make her grip stronger.
“On the count of three,” She adjusted her fingers, and locked her elbows.
She stared at the boy. He stared back at her.
His leg was trembling against her chest. Her fingers began to sweat.
Liora stopped her hands just before lifting his knee when she heard the heavy footsteps of someone in the hallway. At first she was hoping it was Foe, but with the loud booming order to someone, Liora felt her heart sink.
Putting the boy’s leg down, she covered it quickly. The girl needed to find a hiding place. Charn was already upset with her for being in Demor and taking attention away from his son. She didn’t want to think what the monstrous man would do if he caught her in his son’s room without permission.
Liora hid under the bed, tucking her hands under her chest, and making sure to pull her dress away from the edge so the king wouldn’t notice it. Charn’s heavy steps matched her heart beat, as he approached the bed. She was lucky the quilt lay an inch above the floor, helping her stay out of sight. It was dusty, but that was something she was willing to deal with rather than be found.
The king knelt beside the bed. His leg was as thick as she was. She spied the toe of his polished boot dip under the quilt. She wiggled farther over, hoping her movement wasn’t making any noticeable sounds. Her toes tangled in webbing by the wall.
“Shush, me child,” the King breathed, brushing the boy’s hair aside with one of his fingers. The boy moaned in pain, but moaning was better than his screams.
Fifteen years. Every year saw Charn’s hope fade further. Charn didn’t know what to do, but he wanted his son to stop screaming. Every scream tore at his heart.
“That wee sage must ‘ave come by earlier. Did yah know he was in the West? He told me he saw a dragon,” Charn placed his hand on the boy’s cheek. “He ran like a babe, leavin’ Foe to deal with the scaly beast.”
Liora hadn’t heard that story, although Caldor wouldn’t have shared such a story with her.
“Foe told me he met a prim in Bay’s Lake and ate fresh fish from their waters,” Charn could see his son studying him, listening to his every word. “One day ya’ll get to ’ave adventures like them. I’m certain.”
Liora wanted to believe that was true. If there was a cure for the boy’s sickness in the almanac she was sure she would find it.
Folding her arms under her head, Liora stared towards the kneeling king.
Charn continued with his stories. His son forced a smile between the moaning and cries. The King wanted to give him more medicine, but he had already gone past the recommended dosage, according to Caldor.
“Yah want me to hum to yah?” Charn stood from the floor. “Just between yah and me. Our secret that yar ol’ da’s a softy.”
Charn chuckled, sitting on the edge of the bed. The bed sunk a foot, as Liora rolled to the other side avoiding being squished by the heavy man’s weight. The bed frame creaked as she held her breath. Once he was comfortable, Liora listened to Charn hum a lullaby. His voice was a low rumble, as she moved to rest her head on her folded arms.
This was what she had imagined having a father would have been like. It was her nata - mother - who had sung her to sleep and when she was gone, only the memories of her singing remained. Her iznata had only sung traditional songs, but the old woman was usually asleep before Liora was.
Moments passed and she began to doze off listening to the peaceful humming above her. Even the prince had quieted down, with only low moans as if he wanted to listen to his father’s song. The frame creaked again when Charn pulled himself to his feet, making Liora jump to attention to make sure she wasn’t caught off guard.
“I’m sorry me boy, but I must go. I’ll see yah tomorrow. That’s a promise,” Charn leaned down, giving the boy a kiss on the forehead. “Be good, ’ight.”
The bed moved back to how it was, making Liora roll back to the middle. The man lumbered off towards the door. He opened it, pausing to wish the boy goodnight before closing it. Cáel’s moans got louder until he screamed. This time it sounded like it was out of frustration rather than pain.
Crawling out from under the bed, Liora brushed off her dress as small tuffs of dust floated to the floor. That had been a different side to Charn. Compared to how he treated her, the man truly loved his son. He acted like Foe did with Druce, although the Steward was friendly to others and not just family.
“Back,” Liora chimed, making her way to where Charn had been sitting. The boy stared at her, his breathing quick and through his nose. “Still want me to fix your knee?”
To her surprise, the boy nodded and wiggled his toes on his right foot. He was holding his breath, forcing himself to hold in his screams.
Liora rubbed her hands together briskly. She wanted to warm them up before placing them on his forehead. The boy needed to relax before she tended to the knee. She had to work faster than she had before in case he couldn’t hold his screams in. All she needed was a sudden return of screams to draw someone else to his room.
Rubbing his temples, she moved to his neck, then his shoulders. The boy was breathing through his nose.
Moving away the blanket from his right leg, Liora rested his foot on her chest. She positioned her hands under his knee, as she glanced up. He was studying her as she kept eye contact with him.
“I’m not going to count,” Liora warned, tightening her fingers and locking her elbows. “I’m just going to pop it, all right?”
Before the boy could answer her with either a nod or a pausing of his breath, she pushed against his foot. With a quick thrust forward and pushing her hands up, she could hear the pop of the boy’s knee.
He couldn’t hold in the scream. It bellowed out louder than the others had been.
His joint had been unlocked, but the pain had increased. She had expected this. If the boy’s leg had been in such a way for a while, there was no doubt it would be painful. It would take a couple more days before he was completely pain free, but the first step had been completed.
Setting his leg back down, she massaged the muscle and joint. The knot was gone; the tension in the muscle was dissipating. She still needed to help him work through the pain.
As she continued to massage, Cáel’s screams began to fade. He was feeling better. She massaged his calf and his knee, making sure to pay close attention to the muscle behind the knee.
The boy sighed. His hands relaxed before he moved them to rest on his chest. A small crooked smile was on his lips, and his eyes were now closed.
“Thank yah,” his voice hoarse but she was able to hear what he had said faintly. He didn’t need to thank her. This was what she was supposed to do.
The boy was no longer screaming for the moment, and hopefully he would have a few hours of relief so he could sleep. She had to tell Caldor in the morning about what care had to be done to insure the prince’s knee would heal correctly. Now that the boy wasn’t screaming and he could bend his knee, she was certain the old sage would listen to her.
When his whole body was relaxed and she made sure the muscles in his legs were resting, Liora laid his leg back down before covering it with a quilt. She looked at the boy, whose head was tilted to the left on his pillow as she listened to his deep breathing.
The prince was asleep.