A/N: sighs if you need to, you should definitely go back and read the last sentence of chapter SIX. (This is chapter eight.) Especially if you don't remember what it was. Its like… important or something. So do that now. And if you don't remember chapter seven then… well yeah. Nevermind.
And I realize that something is super wrong with fictionpress and you guys physically cannot review, so I don't hate you. I'm just really sad. I liked chapter 7… breaks down sobbing It sucks when you don't get any reviews… but dbz77and thinkTwice Nfall reviewed some earlier chapters, which made me super happy!
Chapter Eight – POV Noelle
"I can remember when my sisters were but toddlers, stumbling around on tiny feet and tugging at their overpriced and viciously laced dresses. It hurts me now to see them so far away from that happy, somewhat innocent image, as now they use their tiny feet for stalking, and viciously lace their dresses on purpose. It seems to me strange, that we should be so alike back then, and so different now."
I stood before a door. Plain, wooden, engraved with simple signs for safety and other such things… It was a door I feared greatly, and avoided to a point of obsession. I knocked.
"Yes?" a woman's voice called, "Who is it?"
I took a deep breath, "Noelle…" I called halfheartedly.
There was a pause, "Come on in, little one."
I took a moment to gather my composure and fix my posture, reaching up to make sure my crown was on my head and straight, and to pull at my skirts to keep them neat. And then I pushed through the entrance.
The Queen was sitting at her extravagant desk, pouring over piles of qualification documents and payment leafs… her chair was turned toward me and she smiled falsely. "Not so little anymore…"
I curtsied and she nodded, but I didn't move further into the room, merely closed the heavy wooden door behind me. "Mother…" it felt so strange calling her that… as I did when I was young… but it was so much stranger to call her my Lady, or my Queen… for she wasn't my Queen. Or if she was, she hardly acted like it. And she wasn't my mother either, in the true sense of the word.
"Yes, child?" She made a point to never call me Noelle, and it resulted in her always addressing me so… child or young one, mostly nothing at all. She would introduce me as "The Heir" or "Your future Queen" or "My eldest daughter" and I would follow up with the name.
"I am considering a visit to Eltide soon… to see cousin Raja…" I was surprised at my own mouth… I had come to tell my mother of my plans to go to Louisville. Subconsciously I had apparently known better, and now that I thought about it, I knew that the Queen would have never let me go to Louisville, and Eltide was an entirely different story.
The Queen blinked, glancing at the papers on her desk, "I've just had word from Eltide… From your aunt Rose… you know her son is getting married?"
This was news indeed… perhaps if I had waited a few days; the Queen would have asked me to go to there… to congratulate the couple. But something in her face told me there was more to the story. "I hadn't heard, no, which son?" Aunt Rose had birthed a number of children, four boys and two girls; though I hardly knew many of them, the last time I had been there I was but five years old.
"Cameron… the eldest…" Her eyes watched mine, as if she thought I already knew this, and was trying to trick her. "Do you know who he is marrying?"
I stood still and straight, unblinking. "No, of course not. Who?"
"The goose girl. A maid named Keit."
I didn't breathe for a moment, partly amazed, partly hopeful… partly wondering if it might be a very bad joke.
"It is true, and its happening all over the kingdom. In Jackson your cousin Maria is engaged to her younger brothers head guard." She finally decided that I hadn't already known this and cast her eyes toward the fire. "A goose girl will inherit the throne. Do you know what this means for us?" She said it more to herself than to me.
I thought about it… "No… what does it mean?" The Queen always liked explaining things… and I wasn't in the mood to think it out.
"The world is changing under our very feet, my treasure, and there's nothing you or I can do about it. I've never felt so useless in all my life!"
So this was a control issue. I said nothing and waited for the Queen to calm down and remember why I was here.
"And you want to go to Eltide! To where it all started!" Her eyes dug deep into mine, trying to find some remnant of guilt. As if I'd been planning this all along, and I was setting out to be a rebel, away from where she could control my every breath. "But I suppose someone has to go. Though, what a pain… to send our congratulations for something we don't even approve of. How embarrassing. But… well… you offered." She looked kind of exasperated. She must have been tired. I chanced a fleeting look at the window. Barely midday. I wondered if she'd slept at all last night. What work did she pour over? Taxes? Treaties? With whom? There was no one to fight but ourselves. No room for growth. Perhaps it wasn't people causing her problems. I knew the faeries had been giving her trouble since before the beginning, and several other forest dwellers had never given us a second thought, but there was nothing to be done for them. The forests were almost like a second world.
"So I will go to Eltide."
"Yes, yes…" she sighed, "You'll have to bring Claire and Rebekah along with you… gives me one less thing to worry about." She stood suddenly, and swayed on her feet, "And the prince of course, the poor fool. His parents, bless them, are beyond help. This will be my last favor toward them. You'll have to go soon, regrettably, to make the wedding ceremony…"
"Tomorrow? Crack of dawn?" The sooner the better… Goodness, this was becoming more troublesome than I had thought. A wedding ceremony?
"So quickly? Well, the sooner the better, really… Imagine if you were late! But yes, tomorrow is best, though it gives us no time for preparation." She bent over her desk and began scribbling a note on a leaf of paper. "We'll have to send a messenger ahead to tell of your attendance… do we have enough horses? Of course we do, I know how you like traveling outrageous distances on horseback. If you continue that way, people will think ill of you."
I was silent.
"Of course, if they didn't already, I wouldn't know what to think of them."
I rose an eyebrow. Was she trying to be friendly? I couldn't figure it out…
"And oh, Rivers, they'll want you to stay down there for who knows how long and I wont have you back home for a century at least. You'll have to do your best to escape, dearest." She turned away, a malicious smile on her face. "And now I have work to do, so away with you, child."
Indeed, as she sat again, bending over her desk, I turned and I walked. Only after I'd left the doorway did I turn back and look to see what she might be writing. And it wasn't vellum paper I noticed, nor the feathered quill- but the language… The letters she formed were not of this tongue, nor the faeries', not even in the form we used to contact the forest dwellers. She was writing to the mountains, to them.
Through endless corridors I ran- vision blurred, unsure to why I was so frightened. I ended up in a dusty room full of birdcages and wooden chests, all empty, but closed and locked all the same. There was a window on the far wall, and the dust I unsettled I saw streaming there, a beam of golden light and particles. I shut the door behind me and sat on the ground, my back against it. My heart was hammering against my chest, though I knew no immediate danger. I dismissed my childish fears without struggle. There was no reason for thoughts of the mountains to alarm me. The creatures that lived there were magnificent… even in their terrifying lifestyle. They posed no threat to me.
It was a terror many toddlers shared with me, for we'd all heard the stories, children and warriors alike carried to the golden-lined caves, held for years just for the amusement. It was hard not to fear them at that age. So big, so undefeatable.
But that was in the past. They no longer pillaged our villages, no longer plucked wizards from their tower balconies. In all senses they had broken, though we made no effort to break them.
At that age I had known there was more to the story. One day they were enflaming whole corn fields with a breath, and the next they had fled to their caves, in all senses scared witless. The grown-ups told us these stories with mixtures of fear and awe. I knew they supposed a reason, though none even thought about a possibility. I only knew they suspected a return. They would not hide in their caves for long… but now years and years had past, and there they stayed. Had a warrior entered this world? Could they sense their upcoming defeat? What could they possibly be frightened of in a world where we could not defend against them?
But they were gone either way.
I stood from the ground where I had been sitting, and did my best to sweep the dust from my skirts. Out the window I could see the mountains towering on the horizon. They were framed with clouds (or smoke?) and I imagined the land beyond them, a paradise I had yet to lay eyes on.
A shiver traveled along my spine, and the hair on my neck stood on end. I ducked away from the window, overcome with the feeling that someone was watching me. Again.
I left the room hastily, closing the door behind me and hurrying through the castle. Curiously, I met no one on my way to the main hall, and entering, I realized why. Prince Aaron, the fool, had taken a late breakfast and was hitting it off with an irritated knight who was unfortunate enough to have been sitting next to him. Of course, none of the knights could leave, for military protocol called for them all to stand and leave together, and none dared ask the Prince to cut the conversation short. So the knights had stayed, as did their squires, and their pages. And then, as if they were paying their respect, the servants all waited as well, though it was obvious they were just there to watch. The poor victim, a knight I recognized as one of my own guard, was squirming in his seat, listening to the Prince with an expression of distaste mixed with embarrassment. As he spotted me, so did all the rest, until I was the focus of the entire room save one. The only person left oblivious was the Prince, chattering on about who knew what.
It was strange, them all staring, and me with no speech to spit out. I looked to the grandfather clock against the wall and all of them looked as well. It was well past breakfast time, they knew as well as I. And so they watched me, and I watched them, and we all listened to the Prince. Or at least, we tried. His words were uninteresting to any but him, or so I assumed, and we amused ourselves with staring. Or, they stared… and I adjusted my crown, something I realized was quickly becoming a nervous habit.
"As the stories say, the great beast spread his wings, full length of this castle, believe me, and his jaw cracked open wide with his flame shooting out across the countryside… we didn't even try to hide, I say, we were scared past the point of caring, just waiting for him to take one, we knew we didn't have a chance…"
By now I was actually listening. The thoughts of the knights and the squires and the pages all screamed for the Prince to shut his trap and called for me to leave, to just walk away without a second glance. Don't listen, they thought desperately, don't bother.
I was horrified. How was it that they all knew of my childish fear? How was it that today of all days the subject kept popping up? The beasts no longer bothered us! Why couldn't everyone just drop it?
"…the barn's aflame, the sparks flying, and so it stops flaming, its teeth merging together… and it just stared at us, cowering behind… nothing. We just cowered, right there out in the open. And so it reaches its great black claw, as we knew it would, and plucks up our little Gabriel. Rivers bless him, he didn't make a sound… just pissed all down his leg he was so scared. Weren't we all shocked though, when his mum goes and runs right up to the beast- the stupid girl, screaming and yelling, and the thing just sat there on its haunches, watching her throw a fit."
The people had finally given up hope that I hadn't been listening and merely hoped I would get mad, or yell at him or something to end the anticipation.
"And there she was, Lucy was her name, shaking her finger at those big black eyes that were just staring at her like they'd never seen a thing like it. He just squeezed the child harder and lifted him into the air, hundreds of feet above poor Lucy's head. And Lucy goes nuts and full out kicks the beast and probably broke her foot for all her daring. Little Gabriel with his voice like an angel's just begs, begs the creature to spare his mum and the thing's just looking from him to Lucy and back, as are we, just wondering what he'll do."
I finally realized that the Prince was telling this story from his own memory, though he must have been just a few years old at the time. I passed through the doorway and the others watched me with bated breath. I surprised them all when I sat among them, helping myself to a cup of tea from the pot they had placed of the table.
"It was sad, 'cause we all knew it was going to be Gabriel… He'd known, and his mother had known, though they didn't say so. He was such a handsome boy…" The Prince shook his head dejectedly. "But they always took the prettiest ones, didn't they, dragons…?"
There was a collective gasp from all corners of the room and I choked on my tea in surprise and distress. I stood roughly, my chair shooting out behind me and clattering against the wall a few feet away. The Prince's eyes traveled along the table to where I stood, astonished and outraged. His eyes widened (in fear?) and he took the few seconds I gave him to breathe, "Noelle…"
A/N: Ahh, the forbidden word… (do you get it now?! huh? from chapter 7? the song people! the song!) how will he be punished, ey? But I'm excited for the next, just you wait…