Chapter Four

That night, Freya dreamed that she was one of the elite Thadellian dancers. She was ready on stage at the feast, and in the audience she saw her father, brother, Yannae, King Ordaen and Prince Thoren. Her brother was smiling proudly up at her, and when she looked at Prince Thoren, he raised his wine goblet in acknowledgement. The music came suddenly and quickly and the dancers launched into fast paced movements characteristic of Syraine dancing. Freya's feet moved on their own accord, and soon she was at the centre of the stage holding a silver hoop high above her. She was about to let go of the hoop and the audience looked on excitedly.

"Freya, wake up!" Someone was shaking her hurriedly, repeating her name in a rushed tone.

Groggily, her eyes squinted open and recognised Raydeh leaning over her. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Hurry up, get dressed and listen carefully," he directed as she slipped out of the bedcovers and off the bed, "An assassinator came into my chambers tonight, and would have slit my throat had I not been still awake from being in an unfamiliar bed and room."

"Oh gods above, are we in danger?" exclaimed Freya in the middle of slipping on her ginger veil.

"Yes sister, which is why we must leave immediately. I found out from the man that he was hired by the Thadellian King, before I ended his life. We are in hostile territory Freya; such cunning dishonourable ways are the true side of Thadell. They have made themselves our enemies, and war will arise hereafter."

"We must alert father then, he will know what to do."

But when her brother did not respond, fear arose within Freya. He looked at her grimly and set his jaw.

"Raydeh, what has happened to father?"

"I went in search of him straight away of course. But the guard outside his room was lying bloody on the floor, and my worst suspicions were confirmed. When I went inside, father was lying in his bed asleep, but blood covered his pillow and sheets. He was a great King and did not deserve to die this way."

She stared at her brother in disbelief, before looking away, unable to stand the reflected sadness in his eyes. "We must find Yannae before she too is murdered then."

Prince Raydeh nodded in response, and together they walked out of her bedchamber into the sitting room, and opened another pair of doors leading to the room of her decoy. The girl was sleeping normally, and Freya whispered "Thank the gods, she is alive." She moved quickly to the bedside and woke the girl.

"Yannae, we are in danger and must leave immediately."

The girl showed obvious surprise, but otherwise quickly got dressed obediently and without question.

They then left the chambers and walked quickly down the corridors. Freya feared capture every time they passed a guard, but her brother had pointed out "We need not care about common palace people. It would be unwise to reveal a secret plan to more individuals than necessary, and no war general or King would do so. However we mush hurry, for once our escape is discovered, they will be sure to send guards on us."

Reaching a side exit, they paused and Prince Raydeh ordered, "Freya, take Yannae and alert our servants of the evacuation. I will go to the camp of our guards and send two men to retrieve our King's body and get the horses ready to ride."

Freya nodded and headed to the servants' quarters on the lower levels.

xxxxx

Exiting the palace to the stables with a dozen or so servants in her trail, Freya saw Syraine guards and her brother in the near distance. Some were already mounted on horseback; others were making last minute adjustments. Suddenly Thadellian guards spilled out from the palace behind her, shouting for the Syraine contingent to stop. Only a few emerged at first, but more and more joined them and Freya panicked. The servants around her were running to shelter, to the walls of the palace, under a tree, away from the oncoming guards. But she couldn't follow them; she needed to get back home. So she grabbed Yannae's wrist and ran towards the Syraine guards. The girl beside her was slow and dragged her behind, and the Thadellian guards overtook them but paid them no heed. Freya watched as battle erupted between the two sides. However, more and more Thadellian guards kept coming and Syraine was outnumbered. She saw her brother and other guards on the outside break off in flight and more and more followed suit.

Freya waved her arms frantically for attention. Let a guard see me she screamed inside. Finally, one guard did see her and rode towards them. I'm saved, she thought. Many Thadellian guards attacked him, and having to fend for himself slowed his pace down. But once he neared, she reached her hands up for hoisting up, and he leaned down. But then he passed over her and grabbed the girl next to her. "Yannae?" she exclaimed, "Stop, come back!" Too late she realised she was dressed in servants' clothes, and the guard had recognised her decoy as the Princess. She watched hopelessly as he rode into the distance, and Thadellian guards surrounded her and the other servants.

xxxxx

The Syraine servants had been taken to a small hall inside the castle, and given grey old blankets to pass the rest of the night. Freya had curled up against a wall and tried with all her effort to sleep, knowing that she would need enough rest to brave the unknown future. But all night, she could only stare at the foot of the wall, numbing herself to the events of the past few hours. The frantic whispering of the servants to each other and the guards' fierce orders for silence were unheard, and even the cold and itching of the unfamiliarly coarse blanket against her skin were unnoticed. And after what felt like only minutes, but must have been hours, the guards were shouting for everyone to wake up and scraps of bread were passed around.

Shortly after, Freya found herself waiting in line to be sorted into different sections of palace work. A small balding scribe sat behind a table at the front of the room, recording names, age and assigned type of work for each servant. She watched as woman after woman in front of her were sent away to the kitchens, washing, or to be a maid. An occasional male was usually sent to the stables.

When she reached the front of the line, the scribe monotonously asked "Name and age?" without looking up.

"Freya, seventeen" she replied.

He wrote down her answer and still without looking up, asked "Skills?"

"Dancing."

The little man finally peered up at her and hovered his ink feather over the quill. "Are you also able to cook or stich?"

"Perhaps I can, but I've never tried either so I wouldn't know," she replied shrugging.

The scribe's eyes widened and he was momentarily lost as to what to say or do next, and Freya found his expression extremely amusing. When he finally signalled a Thadellian servant girl over, he vaguely directed for Freya to be taken to a Madame Oulaey.

So Freya followed the servant out of the room and down the corridor. The girl was about the same age as Freya, with light brown hair tied up in a bun, wearing a dusty light brown skirt that reached her knees and a similarly coloured short sleeve shirt with a square neckline. Most servants around the castle wore similar attire Freya had noticed, plain and light coloured clothes. She looked down at her own outfit which was also a plain ginger colour, but made of much softer material and cut to fashionable shape. She did look the part of a commoner, but probably surprising for a servant.

They arrived outside a pair of doors, which was opened by another servant when the first servant girl knocked. Inside were about twenty dancers rehearsing steps in sync, to the beat called out by an elder woman at the side of the room. The woman noticed them and paused; "Alright girls, take a rest for a bit." The dancers immediately relaxed and looked curiously at the newcomer clad in Syrian attire. The middle aged woman whom Freya concluded to be Madame Oulaey had darker brown hair than most Thadellian women Freya had seen, but still not as dark as her own. She was rounded by not yet plump and wore a loose white ankle length skirt and matching material draped over her torso with the ends thrown over her shoulders.

"What's the matter?" she briskly demanded.

"She is one of the Syraine servants, and claims to be a dancer," replied the servant girl, gesturing to Freya.

"Thankyou, you may leave," Madame Oulaey dismissed, at which the girl bowed her head and headed back out. Then, her gaze scrutinized Freya and demanded "What's your name, girl?"

"I am Freya, Madame. I was a dancer in the Syraine palace." Although she wasn't used to being addressed so curtly, she pushed away any discomfort. She would have to get used to her new situation sooner or later.

"Alright then, you may sit over there on the bench whilst we finish off this rehearsal," Madam Oulaey instructed, gesturing over to the other end of the room, "Watch my dancers, and hopefully by the end you can repeat some of the steps to me." And with that, she walked back to her original place and the dancers resumed their positions.

xxxxx

The rehearsal had been interesting, nothing as spectacular as the dancing on the feast night, but never the less opened up a completely different dance culture to Freya. The focus on sensual movement of the hips and body, and slower pace in general contrasted with the flighty agile dancing she was used to back home. As the dancers returned instruments to the walls and exited the room, Madame Oulaey beckoned Freya to her

"So what do you think of our dancing in Thadell? I have seen Syrian dancing on a few occasions before, and I believe there is much difference in the two styles."

"Your dancers are quite skilful Madame, and I found their performance very enlightening. I have never had the opportunity until now to witness the renowned Thadellian palace dancing." Freya hoped to make favourable acquaintance with Madame Oulaey, who seemed to be in control at least over the palace dancers.

"Oh, of course dear," Madame Oulaey answered with a laugh, "we take in only the best, and I train my girls very hard. Now let's see what you have acquired from today's session. From the beginning then."

Freya ran through the whole routine quickly in her head again. The dancers had only gone through the entire dance twice today, having repeated sections numerous times until Madame Oulaey was satisfied. She began counting the beat out loud, "Five six seven eight," and clasped her hands together above her head on one, continuing the count inside her head. A series of swaying from left to right and arching backwards and forwards with slow subtle movements of each section of the body began the routine, followed by sliding her hands back down her sides to the hips. A double spin to the right ended in a crouch, and Freya continued through the movements of the dance under Madame Oulaey's assessing gaze.

Many beats later, the she was at the faster paced climax nearing the last movements, when she purposely executed a triple spin in half the designated time and took two nimble strides before leaping into the air and spinning twice after landing. She crouched and made flowing arm gestures around herself, and then flattened her palms on the ground to push up into a handstand. In the air, she bent both knees before straightening one leg at a time and spreading them into a V shape. After one arching of the back and swinging of legs, Freya was again upright, and raised her arms straight above her and back down as she crouched in ending.

The sound of clapping from Madame Oulaey rewarded her efforts, and Freya allowed herself a small smile. "Good, good. I had no expected you to remember the whole routine, but I am impressed."

"Thankyou Madame," Freya replied whilst standing back up.

Madame Oulaey nodded and continued, "You are a fast learner indeed, and I approve of your own addition at the end. Your technique of our dance style is sufficient, but there is room for improvement. I have great hopes for you, Freya. I have never received a dancer already so skilled in a foreign dancing style before, and perhaps with some time, you will be just as talented with Thadellian dance." She smiled at Freya, and Freya registered that her initial impression of the strict professional Madame Oulaey may have been misleading.