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“Isaac, where are we going?” I asked as we were descending the stairs of somewhere I had never been to.
“We are going to the south wing of the castle. South-westward to be more precise” he informed me as he guided me and Abby.
I wasn’t awake enough to know what was going on or to discover where we were heading to, but I knew that the doctor had arrived already and that we were going to somewhere where I would get my medical exams.
“And where would that be? In the center of the Earth?” Abby asked, looking both ways and feeling annoyed. She had her hair tied in a bun and wore a shirt and jeans. She didn’t look formal, as usual, so seeing her like that shocked me a little.
“The south-westward is where the guards train and gather themselves, ladies” he explained, giving us a crooked smile. He was humorous, while Abby and I felt like it was too early to be that happy “We have arenas, a field, some other rooms and some labs”
“And everything is under this castle?” I asked, not buying it.
“Princess, remind me to take you on a complete tour around the castle someday. There’s a lot that you don’t know about, as I can tell” he suggested as he raised his arm with a bracelet on and a black box glued to the wall scanned that thing. Then, a yellow light came in and, suddenly, it changed colors to lilac. Isaac passed through a secret passage without doors, but when I followed him, a terrible alarm started to sound along with red lights.
“What the fuck is this?” I asked, covering my ears.
Isaac didn’t seem bothered by the noise and kept walking until he pointed to a camera hidden on the corner of the corridor and he asked Abby and I to follow him.
In a matter of seconds, the alarm stopped and the door in front of us unlocked.
We kept walking and I couldn’t hold myself back. My mouth opened when I realized what Isaac was talking about earlier.
“Wow” I said while I got closer to the grille that was tall enough to reach my chest.
Around us, there were a lot of rooms. I counted six doors. Some had glass windows and others didn’t, but, from what I could see, those rooms were the labs that Isaac had told us about.
“This way, princess” he requested and I followed him, walking to the left while I tried to absorb each detail of what I was seeing.
Under me, in something that looked like an artificial clearing, some guards were talking - which led me to think about how many guards worked at the castle, after all. Some wore formal clothes, like Isaac, and others were wearing training clothes, which I hadn’t seen before, and, apparently, Combellmont’s guard also trained women and, when we passed by one of them, she bowed to me. In the center, there was a field where two guards were training. Hanging on a wall, there were punch bags that were being used by two other guards.
“Come in, please” Isaac opened the door of one of the rooms without windows and we got in.
It was a lab and the white light made me blink a lot before getting used to it.
“Good morning, princess” I heard and then saw doctor Ambrosio’s face. He was sitting on a stool “Do you have the samples?”
I looked around, to the couple that was in the room, besides Abby and Isaac, and I waved, taking the paper bag that Justine had given me and that I had put the samples inside of it.
“Yes, sir” I confirmed, handing the bag to him. He gave the bag to a thin and short lady with black hair.
“Nala” he said and she held the bag, taking it inside, with another man on her side and later they came back with something to take out the blood.
My stomach hurt and it felt like the strawberry vitamin that I had drunk was about to leave my body from the same place it got in.
“Sit down, princess” she asked with a shy voice, offering me the stool by doctor Ambrosio’s side.
I sat down and kept staring at the kit that she was working on the balcony while the doctor picked up his suitcase and took a pressure device, a stethoscope, and a device to measure the amount of insulin in the blood out of it.
“Do I have permission to touch you, princess? We need to start your medical exams” Nala asked.
I really hated that everyone thought I was the kind of person who you’d have to ask permission to touch.
“Sure” I nodded.
Nala took my left arm and bind with an alloy, giving two taps in the part inside the elbow. I felt nauseous and nervous.
“Nick?” I heard Abby calling.
“Hm?” I replied, turning my head to see her.
“Would I look good if I shaved one side of my head?” she asked with a loud voice, trying not to laugh.
“What?” I asked, not understanding what she meant by that.
And then I felt the sting and my blood started to be taken out with such a hurry that I couldn’t even imagine that it would be like that.
“Ouch” I groaned with a grimace.
“There you go. I’m sorry, princess” Nala apologized, taking the needle out of me and closing the blood sample.
“I apologize too, Nick” Abby asked, coming closer and smiling. “I met a nurse that used to do that when I had to take blood tests. She used to grab my attention to herself by saying or doing something absurd when I was about to get stinged”
“It worked… More or less” I assumed, laughing as I pressed the cotton with a band-aid that Nala put on my arm. She was taking the alloy off.
“I need your other arm now, princess” doctor Ambrosio informed me.
“Oh, okay” I said, giving him my right arm.
The doctor installed the pressure device and, this time, it didn’t hurt. After that, he explained that it was the easiest way to know if I had diabetes and, lastly, I had to let him put a cotton swab inside my mouth. He put that sample inside a ziploc bag like it was the most normal thing in the world, but he didn’t pay attention to the grimace I was making while he was annotating the result and packed his things. Nala offered me a piece of cloth inside a plastic bag.
“It’s leggings, a shirt, and a sweatshirt, but I believe you won’t be able to use the sweatshirt now” she explained. “Come, you need to change”
After I followed her, with Abby behind us, we downed to the bathroom. The clothes were comfortable, but tight. The shirt was white and the leggings were gray. I had never worn gym clothes, so it felt weird when I looked at myself in the mirror. I always knew I had big hips and chest, but those clothes made them look bigger. I remembered the doctor’s words about diets and exercises: “Well, now is a good time to start doing something”. Well, it certainly looked like it was, in fact, a good time to start doing something.
“It fits perfectly” Nala confirmed with a short smile. “Let’s go, princess”
After that, we headed to another room with windows, on that same floor, where doctor Ambrosio and Isaac were already in and it looked like a regular doctor’s office, but it had a treadmill and some other gymnastics equipment. When we got in and got closer to the treadmill, that had a table on the side with a computer, besides a black and white box with a lot of wires coming out of it, Nala asked me to get on the scale that was closer to the wall, where, once again, my weight and height were measured. I kept stable while they were putting a bag that covered my whole stomach on me. I realized that the bag’s wires and the black and white box wires were connected somehow. I tied my hair in a ponytail.
“Take off your shoes and climb the treadmill, princess”
After taking my All Star off and climbing the treadmill as they told me to do, Nala did something on the box that turned out to be a machine and its screen lit, showing my heartbeats.
“Cool. I’ve never seen one of those” I said, looking at that machine with curiosity.
“We are going to start slowly and then speed it up until we reach your limit, okay?” Nala informed me and got closer, turning the treadmill on.
It was a nightmare. I had never said anything to anyone, but I used to skip P.E at Abeley and, in return, I gave snacks and candies to my teacher, so she could substitute the physical exercises for written ones. I had to write about the history of sports, the Olympics games or something like that. So, when they speeded up the treadmill, I got tired really fast. Faster than I expected, but, as it looked to Nala and the doctor, we hadn’t reached my limit yet, so I walked and ran for about fifteen minutes until they finally turned the treadmill off and I made the huge mistake of tripping over and falling to the wall. Eight hands tried to hold me.
“I’m fine. It’s okay” I said, recomposing myself.
“Come, princess. Sit here” Nala asked, taking me to a stool and offering me a towel and a squeeze with water.
When I sat down, Nala started to take off the wires that were all around me and she even picked up the ones that fell on the floor when I tripped over. After everyone realized I was fine, I noticed someone was spying on us through the window. Someone laughing so hard that he had to hold the punching bag, shaking his head. Someone that obviously saw me falling and probably had fun while I was running and sweating like a pig. Chuck.
I groaned and rolled my eyes.
“What is it, princess?” Isaac asked, looking around, but Chuck, who was wearing clothes that had the same color as mine, had turned around, pretending to talk to the guy on his side.
“Nothing.” I answered, crossing my arms.
“C’mon, princess. Your results will be available up there” Isaac suggested, opening the door. “Can you walk?
I analyzed his question before answering.
“Walking? Yes. Climbing the stairs…? Can we wait a couple minutes?” I asked, feeling difficulty breathing.
“Okay, do you want to wait here or would you like to walk around?”
I looked at Abby and she was excited to discover that place.
“Sure, let’s explore this place” I accepted, getting up. Nala handed the sweatshirt to me and I put on my sneakers again, starting to walk.
As soon as we got out, Isaac started to explain about the structure like he was a tourist guide.
“This part of the castle, precisely the labs, works along with the hospital of the kingdom. Since our hospital is really small, we have an obligation with the people, so we help with the results of the exams and other simple procedures, to make things faster, so there are exits here that lead to a street close to the hospital and, even though they are supervised, we receive visits from doctors, nurses and, depending on the severity, even patients come here. Here’s the place where the guard trains and receives instruction” he explained, pointing to the place I saw earlier, the center of everything. “We keep our weapons, firearms and cold steels there. That place also has a special line of training”
“Can we go in?” I asked, curious.
“No” Isaac said, turning me down. “Only people above eighteen can go in. As I was saying, the place is soundproof and a login is required. Your profile needs to be accepted, so people tend to be psychologically tested in order to touch any weapon inside of it”
It felt like I was a child being taken away from all the adult fun and, once again, I shut up and crossed my arms.
“And here’s the gym” Isaac pointed, stopping by and opening the door. Abby and I got in.
The place was as big as the artificial clearing and had a lot of equipment.
“Hey, princess. Are you here to do more exercises?” Chuck asked as he passed by us.
I narrowed my eyes and saw that cretin smile of his, which only made me angrier.
“Come on, Charles! I want to put my weekly stamp on your face!” I heard someone saying as I kept walking. Later, I noticed it was Jean, who was also wearing gym clothes, but he wore a shirt that made him look good, differently than mine, and he was waiting for Chuck on a tarpaulin.
“Quit being so arrogant, Jean! We have girls around. Start acting like the asshole you naturally are!” Chuck replied, running and jumping to the tarpaulin.
“Uh, can we stay and watch?” Abby asked. She looked like she was at Disneyland.
“Sure” I said.
“Ten bucks on the hairy one” she said, poking me with her elbow and looking at Chuck.
“Ha, good luck” I said, loudly so that Chuck could hear us “I bet on Jean”
“I always like the underdogs” she assumed, shrugging.
We got close enough to touch the tarpaulin and to see the beginning of their fight.
I hadn’t noticed earlier, but Chuck was a little shorter than Jean and, as soon as they greeted each other, touching their boxing gloves, Chuck took advantage of their height difference, giving the first punch on Jean, hitting his right lung.
Then, they splatted and started to walk around. It was the first time I saw Jean smiling without worrying about anything, just playing along with his younger brother.
“Come on, hairy boy!” Abby shouted, scaring me as she raised her arm.
“It’s Chuck” I said, trying not to laugh.
“Come on, Chuck!” she corrected herself, making me laugh.
Both of them kept moving around and didn’t look at us. They were really focused in their fight and, when Chuck tried to hit Jean again, Jean held his arm, pulling him over and hitting Chuck so hard that he lost his breath.
“Don’t repeat the same move in sequence, Charles”
Chuck shook his head, taking a deep breath, and he held Jean with both of his arms, approximating their heads, to give him a knee that hit Jean at first, but then he started to block it and, when Chuck decided to hit Jean again, Jean creeped Chuck, and they fell to the floor.
Abby got closer to the tarpaulin hitting anxiously and Isaac grabbed her shoulder, asking her to calm down and return to where she was, while they hit themselves and rolled on the floor.
“Time” Isaac asked, hitting the floor once, and they separated, getting up immediately, then Isaac pointed at Jean.
“Three?” Chuck asked.
“Two. Isaac is here and someone needs to get up” Jean replied and I didn’t understand it.
Soon, they greeted again and this time Jean had the first move, hitting Chuck on the shoulder and, when Chuck tried to hit back, Jean hit once again, pushing his arm and hitting his chest.
“We’re being watched by the ladies. What do you think about finishing this quickly and in the least humiliating way, okay?” Jean asked.
Chuck groaned and hit Jean in the face, trying to tear him down, but Jean turned things upside down, giving him a blow tie and Chuck’s face turned red, but then he hit Jean with an elbow on his stomach, which loosened the tie. Jean was quick. He hit Chuck in the mouth.
Suddenly, the fight seemed different. Even though they were wearing boxing gloves, their moves didn’t look like they came from any type of fight I had watched before and they were fast and precise, but Jean was winning as he pushed Chuck to the side, kicking and punching him.
“Here we go…” Isaac sighed and I turned around to see him rolling his eyes.
Little by little, Chuck retreated, defending himself, and I noticed his lips were bleeding and then I remembered about the cut he had on the day we met. It was probably due to one of those fights.
And, as it was bound to happen, Jean cornered Chuck, holding him by his neck and dragging him to the floor. Even though Chuck was persistent and tried to drag Jean too. He pulled Jean’s ear, making Jean laugh.
“You brat!” Jean said, laughing and pushing Charles’ hand away, giving him a husk.
Isaac laughed too and hit the tarpaulin, pointing once again at Jean.
“Oh, come on! Doesn’t my originality count? He let it go at the end!” Chuck contested, laughing and cleaning his mouth with his hand.
“Hand in the cash, Abby” I asked, giving her my hand.
Abby snorted and took her wallet out of her pocket. She gave me ten American dollars.
“Hey, this one isn’t valued here” I noticed quickly.
Abby laughed and took it back, handing me a French currency.
“This one isn’t valued here either, but will be valued once you go to school” she explained, pointing “It’s a franc. France’s official currency”
“Okay, but I won’t keep for that long” I smiled and turned to Charles, that was observing us, and I gave him the franc “Here, I hope this pays off for a band-aid big enough to cover your entire mouth”
Jean, who was taking off his gloves on the other side of the ring, started to laugh.
“Uh, I may have won the first two rounds, but the third one was the princess’ victory, Charles” he said, grabbing his brother’s shoulders.
Chuck received the franc, shaking it and then putting it in his pocket.
“Thank you, princess” he thanked, emphasizing the “princess” because he knew I hated it.
“Come on, ladies” Isaac asked, guiding us back out of the gym.
We got back and I climbed the stairs feeling good after seeing Chuck being punched in the face, and I also had the chance to joke around with him.
Only by the end of the evening, while I was trying out my first dress and pair of shoes, did doctor Ambrosio knock on my door and enter my room to give the results for my exams. He didn’t mince his words when he told me I was sedentary and that I had to change this urgently. He gave me a diet that, even though it didn’t cut a lot of food, it prescribed some food I had never tried before and I wasn’t that excited to try them. He also gave me some exercises to do during the days of the week and he affirmed what I knew already: even though I was sedentary, I didn’t have any illnesses and I was clean.
After he was gone, Abby asked Isaac to follow her to the office, where she scanned and made copies of my results, leaving me with the original ones and telling me to be careful with those, because I would need to show them to my P.E teacher at my new school. Something was telling me that this new teacher wouldn’t make things easier for me as the one at Abeley.
“I think I’ll only see you when you’re in France” Abby informed me, packing her things.
“Really?” I asked, thinking that I would spend the whole week alone at the castle.
My classes would start next Monday, but, until then, I would have to have each and every meal with Aunt Nina and her weird silence.
“Yes, I need to send your declaration to those who were present during the reading, your exams to the new school and to your mom’s lawyer, besides guaranteeing that your room will be ready in France once you arrive. That’s a lot of things to do” she explained, sighing.
“Why do you need to send my exams to my mom’s lawyer?”
“He needs to know if you’re up for the job. You’ll need to do those exams every year”
“What job? Uh…” I asked, but then I realized as Abby was closing her leather bag that matched her red hair. And, then, I considered a different question. “Abby, is that why Aunt Nina can’t be crowned instead of me? Because she has poor health and isn’t up for the job?” I asked, remembering that, since we met, Aunt Nina kept repeating she was fragile.
Abby closed the zipper and had a funny face on, shaking her head and lifting the bag, walking to the door.
“Your aunt is healthy as a horse, Nick. Her only problem is that she’s hypochondriac and that’s really difficult to cure. Maybe you should hire a psychiatrist” she concluded “Now, what are the chances that one of your handsome guards will take this for me? It isn’t heavy, but…”
“I’ll go along with you and they’ll be there to help. At least that’s how it seems to work” I considered, shrugging.
“Uh, do you think you can manage to get the blondie?” she asked with a smile.
“Isaac? Okay” I confirmed, laughing, and I opened the door.
“I admire and, at the same time, think it’s unfair that you don’t enjoy your powers as a princess” Abby said as we were walking to the elevator.
“I can’t get used to it, Abby. It’s too bizarre” I explained and, exactly when I said that, Isaac appeared, climbing the stairs to meet us.
“Miss Foster’s car is here” he informed, holding Abby’s bag as we predicted.
Abby bit her lips to not smile and we got down the elevator.
“You have my number, Nick Anything you need, don’t hesitate to call me” she said, nodding and leaving with Isaac behind her. Then, I was alone at the entrance hall.