Chapter 2

Shyla woke in a terrified panic, face dripping with cold sweat. Her stomach flipped in pain and relief at the same time.

A dream, just a dream, she reminded herself, an unreal vision foreboding something which she did not wish to see, much less feel. But she did, and if memory served her correctly, it would come again, possibly stronger than before; something she absolutely dreaded. She cautiously ran her hand over her stomach, feeling only the smooth linen of her nightgown, and looking down in the pale moonlight, only its ivory surface. No blood, no wound.

Shyla gave a painful sigh. No blood meant no wound; no wound meant not seeing a healer, even though she wanted to, for her body still ached. The healers in the castle were however, unfortunately incompetent. If they saw nothing wrong on the outside of her, they'd either simply dismiss her claims, or assume her insane. Oftentimes, they were more inclined to do the latter. She flopped back down onto her mattress and stared at the ceiling, which gave her an indifferent and stony glare back.

Shyla skipped breakfast that morning, as she had done many times before, and slipped unnoticed into the cavernous Great Hall already late for lunch. She had slid herself into a modest, yet terribly old and worn frock, decorated with faded peonies cut from felt. It was a child's dress, as anyone could plainly see, because it barely reached mid-way of her shins – and Shyla was short for her age to begin with. She had stamped her feet hastily into a pair of calfskin slippers before making her way down the stairs, and with her hair, she did next to nothing aside from brush her overgrown bangs out of her eyes. Straightening her dress, she casually passed through the threshold of the Great Hall, her nose sampling the savory aromas of spiced meats.

She took a glance around, seeing nothing more than a sea of people in a uniform grey sea – apparently someone had caught wind of Mirr's color combinations this morning. Shyla gave a meek sigh and made her way past the daunting, stained oak tables crowded with people scooping and sampling from the large dishes upon them. Shyla shied away a little from this spectacle, wishing she never had to eat in the Great Hall, especially at times like this. She relished her solitude, and avoided social situations when she could.

Mirr, however, disregarded and even frowned upon Shyla's obvious discomfort with people and encouraged her to sit with her and her closest friends. Of course these 'friends' varied day by day, so as not to leave anyone out of her watchful sight, save for Shyla, who was always in it.

Shyla felt her legs move listlessly on their own, out of habit, and the fact that there was no point in fighting against Mirr over something that would be painless, so long as she kept her eyes to the floor and her mouth shut. She plucked her way down to the head table, which lay perpendicular to the rest, shorter, of much darker grain, and at the very edge of the hall. Chairs upholstered in black velvet stood solemnly beside it, each occupied with a body, except one right next to Mirr. Shyla slid into that chair quietly, hoping to avoid being noticed, but of course, Mirr always did.

"Shyla," she leaned over, gave her a hug and a peck on the cheek in a loving greeting, "How are you this morning, or shall I say, afternoon?" Shyla pulled herself into the table further.

"I'm fine," she said plainly, picking up an empty porcelain plate and shoveling steaming peas and shallots onto it, nonchalantly.

"Where were you this morning?" asked Mirr, picking at some wild hen on her plate.

"I wasn't feeling well, that was all." Shyla speared a few of the soggy spheres with her fork.

"Ah," Mirr responded with a hint of dubiousness. She took a quick draught from a shapely wine glass and glimpsed across the table. "… And what about you, Marrin? Where were you this morning?"

Shyla peeked up from her plate, eyes wide. Sure enough, it was him, same face, same eyes, same hair. The only things that seemed to have changed about him this day were his tunic, grey like everyone else, and the plaintative look of boredom with a pinch of discontentment laying in his eyes.

"He was sleeping, milady," a young woman answered from beside him. She was older then Marrin, but still younger than Mirr. Shyla had seen her in the castle many times before – she clung to Mirr like an oblivious sheep, following her every move and action. She frequently took it upon herself to mimic Mirr's trendsetting, but took it to a far more disturbing level than everyone else, going as far as copying and complementing Mirr's embroidery patterns and rouge colors down to perfection. Only, she didn't have the patience to grow her hair out as long as Mirr's, so instead she let hers feather out into wings, just to remind everyone of the difference between Mirr and herself.

"I can speak for myself, Cait," Marrin snapped back quietly.

"Oh? Really?" Cait questioned haughtily, "The you ought to do it more often-" Mirr's hand shot up for silence. Cait choked her chiding voice back and Marrin simply rolled his eyes.

"I was tired," Marrin shrugged, giving Shyla a furtive glance before shifting his sight back to Mirr. "I guess I didn't get as much sleep as I would have liked."

Mirr gave him a curious cock-eyed stare and swung her gaze to Shyla before her brows balanced out again. "Really," she cleared her throat, "you'd think after the way you were acting the day before yesterday that you'd have slept all day and night."

"That's quite enough, thank you," Marrin shot roughly.

"No, no, Marrin, please, do let her go on," Cait spat hissingly, "it's not enough to have made an ass out of yourself though your own pathetic follies, you need to have someone else pass judgment on you for you asinine behavior and tell the world that you, Marrin, are an adulterous, spineless, worm!"

"Woman, what are you ranting on about?" He queried ignorantly, his voice growling in a dangerous crescendo.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" She jumped to her feet, face flushed in rage. She jabbed an elegantly painted nail at him accusingly, "You, proclaiming your love for this clueless twit here like some helpless child!" She passed a venomous glare to Shyla, who in turn blushed deeper than a ripe pomegranate.

"Calm yourself, Cait," Mirr said gently and quelling, shelling out the meat of a walnut in her palm. "it is not wise to accuse people of betrayal when you have nothing but petty gossip as evidence."

"It is not gossip, it's true and he knows it!" She shoved back defensively, not letting up in her attack. Mirr bowed her head to the side complacently.

"That may be, but it is his private life, is it not? It is none of your business what he does behind closed doors and with whom."


"I would also appreciate it if you left Shyla out of this as well. She's still a child, and even then it still isn't your problem. And even if it were, you still really would have no say, now would you?"

Cait pursed her mouth shut bitterly, and sat, arms crossed in futile defiance and arrogance. Shyla, however, pushed back her chair and stood, faced aimed at the floor, tears joining together in her eyes. She said nothing, she simply fled the Great Hall, tears dripping down her cheeks and splattering on the floor like rain as she made her escape.

Shyla sat, slumped over and huddled up against herself like a child in the empty servant's corridor – eyes bloodshot and still just as miserable as she was hours ago; her tears had faded away, but her depression had outlasted them. She rested her tear-streaked forehead on her knees, hating herself for simply being there and continuing to simply be. Though occasional attention sedated her, she never wanted to be the center of such a petty fight. And despite that, whatever courage she had was not enough to aid her stance against ridicule, much less keep the bitter memories of her youth back in her mind

She hadn't been thought of in a fond manner since she was a child. She always kept the same features she was born with, and yet she was always in Mirr's thoughts, unlike the dozens of others that strove to follow and win her favor by being just like her. After all, how could Mirr be so motherly to a child so unlike herself? Homely-looking and quiet, men found her boring; shy and severely un-boisterous, women found her suspicious. Some speculated that Mirr was planning to use her as some ceremonial sacrifice to the gods; others said she was the daughter of one of Mirr's enemies, and she was only being kept for blackmail; and still many others assumed she was just an unfortunate orphan that Mirr chose to take under her wing.

But those who had been in the castle since it's humble beginnings knew only that she wasn't there one day, and the next she was – as if she had always been and it remained that way for twelve years thereafter. Mirr had told them nothing else aside from her age, three years, and the only name she would ever be known by, Shyla. She said nothing else to anyone, not even to the same young girl who lived out her childhood ignorant of her own origins. And it wasn't like she could ask Mirr outright who she was, where she came from, or who her parents were, because Mirr would only give small, vague, and teasing answers that meant nothing, and were laced with an anti-probing, 'If you have to ask, you'll never know,' attitude. Years later, people just stopped asking, and so did Shyla. Others thought it was so much easier to hate and envy rather than attempt to understand, and for them to act on, it was. But it left Shyla alienated when people let their differences distance themselves from her.

Shyla stretched her legs and flopped back against the wall, eyes glued to the ceiling, almost pleading to the celestial gods whom she never learned of, nor knew if they existed, or could even possibly care to hear her. She let her neck sag limp and chin fall down to her chest hopelessly. She felt a strange desire to disappear, to escape; how, she knew not. She only understood that staying in the castle was simply not worth half the trouble she put up with, and could cost her something dear. For years she tried to remain optimistic about her position, but every time blame or gossip fell on her, that same optimism was quickly snuffed out like a flame in water. She felt trapped. She wished someone would aid her…

"Hey there," a familiar sultry voice answered from above. Shyla lifted her eyes momentarily before sighing and letting them fall back down to the floor as if that was there rightful place.

"What do you want, Cait?" She moaned. Cait smiled broadly like a crocodile, and kneeled down beside her as if she were a long-time friend, maybe even sister.

"I wanted to talk to you, as a friend," she said empathetically, tilting her head to the side to meet Shyla's eyes. Shyla gave only a small scathing glance. Cait seemed nonplussed and sat beside her against the wall.

"I understand how someone in your position might feel," she said warmly. Shyla narrowed her eyes in doubt, and turned her gaze to her legs.

"It's not your fault, you know," she continued, "some people just don't understand the kind of situation you're in, but I think I can sympathize."

Shyla rolled her eyes.

"Men like Marrin have trouble keeping their minds and hearts in the same places; guaranteed at least two women will get caught up in his charms and be left to claw over each other…

"I know you don't like Marrin, but he seems to have everything set on winning you, and he doesn't seem to understand that he's fighting a losing battle, does he?" Her grin twisted into further devilishness. "I think might have a solution to this whole mess-"

"What, do you want me to throw myself down a flight of stairs?" Shyla muttered cynically.

"Yes-no! Hah, no, no, no, no! No, of – of course not!" Cait blushed at the slip of her tongue. "I mean, that's a bit drastic, isn't it? Oh, but you're funny. Yes, quite the comedian." She took in a sharp, calming breath. "No, what I meant to say is that the best is for you to… Well – leave."

Shyla sat bolt upright, "What – but… How?"

"You know, just… leave! Run away!" Cait suggested mildly chuckling, waving her hand in a flourish. "It's not hard, you just pack a couple things, and walk right out the door and never turn around… I think it would be best for everyone, especially you. People won't be angry with you anymore, Marrin will forget about you, and best of all, you will be free! After all, aren't you curious about what's out there? You haven't left the castle grounds once in your life, have you?" Shyla lowered her eyes.

"Anyway, think about it."

Shyla wandered down the long corridor towards the library, rolling Cait's suggestion in her head. The more and more she thought about it, the more appetizing the idea of leaving became. She stopped suddenly, and lifted her head to gaze out one of the smoky panes of glass that were often her only glimpse of the outside world.

Dusk was upon the castle, for the sun's last fiery light thrust itself through the glass. Never did the outside world look more inviting than in that moment to her. She kneeled down, picking at the receding fire with her eyes, wishing there was a simple way to leave and see the world with without a blurry shield.

She sighed, standing to her feet. Perhaps she could ask Mirr for advice; maybe she would let her travel with the next wagon of goods that brought supplies and other things that could not be grown, raised, or made in the castle. But then again, she most certainly wouldn't. Shyla shrugged a little to herself. She decided to ask Mirr about it later; now she needed time to herself.

The library's door squealed open gently, but enough to make Shyla wince back as she shouldered her way through. It was late, and by this time many of the castle's residents would be asleep, so she crept inward, hopeful that no one would still be lingering around like spectators in a marsh, waiting for fox-fire.

Shyla wasn't fond of looking so furtive, but she wasn't fond of other people crowding around the shelves, staring glass-eyed at faded manuscripts like statues, either. Night was the best time for her to wander about the library at her own accord, enjoying herself in an empty literary playground, which was something she did religiously.

She paused for a bit on the woven, wool carpeting that lie doused in the bloody light from the dieing coals of the main fireplaces, and simply slid off her slippers to take pleasure in the cool slate flag stones of the floor with the soles of her feet. She ambled lazily pass the heavy manuscript table, picking up a hand candelabra and plucking a wooden match from a lacquered box beside a small vase of goose quills. She struck the match, which temporarily bathed the room in light with its amber flash, and then carefully, she shared the settled flame with the tallow candle. Passively she drifted about the shelves looking for another novella to feast upon. Her head and eyes swung from side to side, her feet knew where to go, and the golden light cast ghosts of dust in its sun-like glare.

It didn't take too long for her eyes to spot a new read – a dulled tome of crimson leather against unmarked canvas-bound blocks; a diamond in a pile of quartz.

She put the candle on the floor, and gingerly angled the book off the shelf, using both hands to balance the book; it was far heavier than she had assumed at first glance and it had looked so much lighter on the shelf, but her knees nonetheless protested under the weight, causing her to kneel suddenly. Propping it up on its spine, Shyla examined it carefully.

Leather-bound, the blood-red book had tarnished and dulled silver clasps, and faded silver lettering. Faded though the lettering was, it was still legible, but only just barely.

'Yohtha egh Hoeha,' it read in a blocky and familiar calligraphy. 'The Book of Hoeha.'

Shyla was intrigued, the book was written entire in Dragon, a language she had been able to speak and read fluently for as long as she could remember. She ran her fingers across the book; the leather was so worn that it was soft to the touch, but it couldn't have been that old… it didn't have any odd smells about it and it wasn't smothered in dust like many other books on the shelves. Curious, she flipped the book open, flipping through heavy, yellowed parchment with blackened, hand-copied letters, and scanning over them wide-eyed.

The book surprised her – it was a guide book to the world! Every place she had ever read about in a history book was there, sparing no detail; plants she had only imagined in her mind were illustrated articulately in fine India-ink and other dyes; animals she had only dreamed about were described in a finer glory than in any story she had ever read. She continued to flip through the book, stupefied by its information, but was forced to look up when the pulsating sound of footsteps on stone rang through the doorway.

Shyla panicked, snuffing out the candle in a quick puff, scooting it into an empty spot on the shelf then scrambling under the table like a skittish cat. The voices grew louder and the library doors flew open as Mirr and Marrin entered, chattering to themselves. Shyla crawled a bit forward on her knees glancing to the fireplace where they stood, trying to pick out a few words here and there.

"How do you know what they say is nothing more than childish blathering, hm?" Marrin barked quietly. Mirr crossed her arms.

"Have they ever been wrong, Marrin?" Mirr shot back icily. "Though I understand why you wouldn't want to believe them, it won't change anything. I don't even know why you're trying; she won't reciprocate her feelings for you.

"Personally, I would rather be struck dead than have her leave, but there's little I can do; the twins are not normal seers, you know. Everything they predict, happens – they see no possibilities or other outcomes like other seers, you know that." She sighed dolefully, "As much as I would like her to stay, as much as I care for her, there is little I can do to stop her."

Marrin scoffed. "What would be so bad about letting her take a small itinerary with the traders? She'd be with Tanir, he'd take care of her, and in a month I'm sure her curiosity will have been sedated-"

"That's not the point," she cut him off swiftly, "the point is that there are things Shyla need not know; about herself, about the world. Do you think I keep such a close watch on her for my health? No – it's for her."

Shyla's mouth dropped, aghast and stupefied. She wrapped her arms around herself, seeking comfort from The Book of Hoeha, only to clutch at air and nothing, blinking stupidly. Shyla panicked in the silence of her mind, spiraling around, she saw it on the floor still open; lily pages enclosed with rose petals amidst a thoroughfare of dust and flagstones. She glanced back; Mirr and Marrin were still conversing heatedly; then she glanced back to the book. She could risk crawling out from under the table, but who knows what consequences she would suffer should Mirr see her, and the chance of a good distraction was thinner than a blade of grass.

Perhaps she could want it to move. She wouldn't have to leave the safety of the table, but if Mirr did notice, the repercussions would be unimaginable. She took in as much courage as she with a quiet full breath, leaned quietly on the floor (in case she passed out), and reached out to the book, fingers outstretched.

Her eyes bore into the book, wanting it to come to her, no questioning, no hesitation, just creeping along the floor like a silent, stalking creature lured by the scent of prey.

The book jerked to a slow start and suddenly wrenched itself to a halt as Marrin blew a sneeze and murmured something along the lines of a voracious swear that Shyla didn't know to the library's dust. She knitted her brow at him, twisting her neck slightly. She shrugged; at least neither of them noticed her. She turned back to the book and tugged at it mentally until she was able to snatch the book up in her arms silently like a thief.

Mirr and Marrin were still oblivious, she noticed as she carefully brushed the dirt and grime from the soft leather binding.

"So then what do you propose to be done about her?" Mirr asked hesitantly. Marrin chuckled coyly, wrapping an arm around her.

"I'm glad you asked," he explained suavely, "it's a simple plan, really, and something that you, milady, may not agree with, but I personally would enjoy. Shyla wouldn't have much of a choice but to get use to it, in time of course, and this seems like the only plausible solution to this ah, situation."

Mirr rolled her eyes drudgingly. "You're rambling. What the hell are you talking about?"

He smiled widely, he clapped his hands together. "Marriage!" He said proudly and brilliantly.

Mirr's eyes widened, Shyla nearly vomited.

"You're joking!" She exclaimed, puzzled. "You're insane!"

"No, no nonono, listen," he soothed, "listen, think about it; you want to keep her here, I want to marry her – it's a win-win solution!"

Mirr gave him a sour look and quickly looked the floor. She cocked her brow curiously at Shyla's slippers, and then looked back to him, face suddenly blank in thought. She cringed for a moment, raked her fingers through her hair, and dropped to her knees suddenly.

"Fine!" She tore back the wool rug, thrusting her fingers between the grout of the stones, digging and picking at loose cement and mortar, finally rending a grey slab from the floor, revealing a hole of impregnable darkness. "There is one thing you must swear to me." She stood, a thick parcel of muslin elongated like a pipe in hand.

"What is that?" Marrin asked dropping his smile a little.

"This," she blew out between ragged breaths, picking at string and fabric with her nails, "is Shyla's." She tore the last pieces free, letting them fall and slide chaotically off an elegantly lacquered sword and scabbard set inlayed with swirling gilded patterns of an ancient design, beautiful and faded like wisps of smoke. Shyla marveled at it – she had never seen a weapon more gorgeous nor finely crafted in her life. There was no possible way that something like that could belong to her.

"You must swear to me that she will never, ever, know of this… this abomination," she spat, eyeing the sword with contempt. "So help me if she does, you will pay for it. And you will lose much more than Shyla, I can promise that."

Frightened now, Marrin plucked the cloth off the floor, and taking the sword in his hands, wrapped it back up.

"I swear to you, Mirr," he said coolly, "Shyla will never know of it." Mirr took the sword and thrust it back into the hole, kicking the stone and rug back over it.

"Alright, then it's settled." She dusted her hands off. "This time tomorrow, consider yourself affianced. We'll tie up the details later; in the mean time, I feel it would be best to rest and keep this quiet."

Mirr and Marrin made their way to the door and departed, bidding each other farewells and wishes of a good night's sleep. Soon after the doors had snapped shut, Shyla crawled out from underneath the manuscript table.

She was shocked, dumbfounded by the conversation that had passed before her eyes. Leaving? Marriage? To Marrin? Shyla felt like retching and sobbing at the same time. Maybe the twins were right… She had been wanting to leave for some time, but as to how, she hadn't taken the time to plan anything out, nor ask anyone. At this point however, asking Mirr would be fruitless; she no longer felt she had a choice. It was either stay and endure a possibly hellish marriage with someone she didn't love for the rest of her life, or leave, possibly never to return.

Shyla took a deep breath and tore back the carpet before the fireplace. She kicked back the loose stone and took the sword, tucking it underneath her arm along with the book. If the sword was hers, there wasn't a reason not to take it.

She pushed the door open and bolted back up to her room. If she was going to leave she would have to do it tonight, and fast.