An update on recent events/chapters:
1-13: Seriste Torilis discovers Ellisen is in threat of war and revolution. When she confronts Iavan Kivlan, the two get kidnapped by Rogue Vinchant des Mars. Vinchant wants information about the country's state from Iavan and he tortures the government official for it, to Seriste's horror. Seriste ends up escaping after a mysterious benefactor (who communicates through blue envelopes) shows her a secret entrance out of the inn. While getting a message from her benefactor to go to Miera and help save Ellisen, she gets attacked by Arnalde Mote, another Rogue sent by Vinchant to retrieve her.
14: Lucien Caskte, a servant of the Torilis household, comes to Seriste's rescue. Seriste discovers Lucien had forged a letter, stating Seriste and Iavan had run off to be together. This has prevented her family from sending help or searching for the two. Seriste is angered by this news, especially since Iavan is still in danger, and decides to go rescue him. When Seriste reveals that Vinchant is taking Iavan to the Rogue town Ischenie, Lucien agrees to help.
15: Frederic Alempik is an inspector for the government. While everybody believes Seriste has eloped with Iavan, he thinks otherwise. Recognizing an inconsistency in her elopement letter, he realizes the two are in danger and continue his investigations to find them... all the while ignoring messages from blue envelopes.
The Sixteenth Chaptire: Town of Criminals
My dear Vincent, I met your sister today. She was quite interesting, bursting with gusto and energy. But also kind. Kinder than I expected. I am shocked she chose the career she did because I see her better as a loving wife and doting mother. Her job's taking a toll on her, you see, and she's very much weary. Angry too, I reckon. Mostly at you. She blames you for what's happened to her. Yes, sir, she was not cut out for this job but really, who is? You and I both know this career is a last resort. Others, they see it as something of fame and bravery, something to be celebrated.
Those people are fools.
Lucien didn't talk much. The observation surprised me because my first few interactions with her were more conversational. She seemed naturally inclined to talk and bear herself with bravado, but as I rode on my horse with her, I realized it was an act. She was friendly and talkative because she had to be. She was strong and assertive in confronting Arnalde because she had to be. Her work as a servant, though unconventional, was also bound to formalities. Lucien followed expectations, even if her mannerisms supposedly denied them.
Our alien surroundings signaled a change in Lucien's demeanor. The wild brush and trees shielded us from detection and civilization. We were far from the capital Ileanor where government officials lingered, far from the countryside where the aristocrats roamed, far from judging eyes. She was free to be as she pleased and given the choice she chose to recede within herself. Her grey eyes grew cloudier. Her bottom lip protruded as she nibbled on it. Her features softened under the occasional light that broke in through the trees. I was the only one to tug her away from her introspection. When I did ask questions, she returned to her previous humor, her tongue sharp and responses cheeky.
"Are we almost there yet?" I asked.
"Impatience never did a person good, Miss Seriste," Lucien responded, "especially when you're heading towards a certain doom."
My breathing hitched at her addendum. Swallowing a lump down my throat, I squeaked out, "Is Ischenie that terrifying?"
"Not at all." Her horse led us through the narrow path and she glanced back to grin. "Scenic view of a lake, newly constructed buildings—the town is only seven years old, mind you—a quaint atmosphere, mostly smiling inhabitants always excited to see visitors. Ischenie is an absolute paradise but where there is paradise, there must be hell. And the task before us is our hell."
I gulped. "Do you think we'll be okay?"
"Of course, we'll be fine!"
I brightened at her quick exclamation. "Really?"
"Just answering as a servant should."
My face fell at her response. From my experience, servants lied through their teeth whenever asked a difficult question. Nobody wanted to get fired so it was easier to reassure the master than tell the truth. Gwendolyn once told me to never ask a servant if a dress looked unappealing. There was a reason why. Lucien demonstrated it, though in a more macabre level.
"So we won't be fine," I said.
"Not too certain about that, Miss Seriste," she said. "Depends on our performances and wits. You can never predict if a plan is a success or failure until you're halfway done with the execution. We just have to march onwards regardless of what lays waiting for us."
I said nothing else, so Lucien returned to her pensive state. The journey to Ischenie took three days. We spent a majority of them riding, only stopping to sleep or eat. I grew used to the stale bread and stopped comparing my old meals with my new sustenance. My complaints were useless. Lucien could do nothing until we arrived at a town again. I learned to adapt, though my stomach continually growled. I was on a race towards acceptance and my body was lagging.
So the sight of Ischenie excited me. The sun shyly poked out behind a distant hill granting the dark building outlines an orange shine. Temporarily, I forgot the dangerous job ahead and focused on the upcoming breakfast, bath, and bed. Ischenie was exactly as Lucien described it. In the distance, I could make out mist over a lake. The town itself was small but lively. By the time we arrived, it roared with life. The inhabitants were preparing for the day, some running to work, others opening their stores, a few dragging wagons out of town.
Lucien jumped off her horse and signaled me to do the same. We led our steeds through the paved streets as people dodged us to sneak glances with bulging eyes. Seeing the attention, I glanced down and took interest in my worn-out shoes. One of my toes peeked from behind the ripped fabric. The soles were tearing off the upper portion. The interior padding had long ignored its function of providing me comfort. My shoes were once made of the best suede, once the finest money could buy. Now they were as tarnished as I.
While I sullied over recent changes, Lucien smiled and greeted passersby. She did well, playing an innocent traveler, almost as well as her performance as servant or protector from a Rogue. Then again everybody put on appearances. I spent my life fulfilling my role as an aristocrat. A milkmaid passed me, dressed in character with braided hair and clothes draped by an apron. A miner carried his shovel and pickaxe as he whistled his way to work. A plump woman brushed past Lucien and me to whisper news to her companion. She looked like well-known gossips I knew. Even the people of Ischenie—a town for Rogues, a town unlike any other—didn't defy stereotypes. We were all actors, our roles the consequence of societal beliefs.
"Are all of these people Rogues?" I asked Lucien.
"Not all," she answered. "Most of the population includes supporters, family, or lovers. Most of the Rogues have permanent housing here, though they tend to travel. It's kind of part of the job description."
"Did you hear the news?" A man ran towards a group, his face bright and cheery. "The Vinchant des Mars recently returned."
"Vinchant des Mars?" Another man scratched his head. "He hasn't been back for over a year! Wonder why he's returned now."
"I hear he's quite dashing," a woman interjected.
"Well nobody is as dashing as Arnalde Mote," another woman said.
Hearing the conversation appalled me. The people's light manner seemed fit for the drawing rooms where talk centered on the latest fashion or most suitable bachelor. But not Rogues. Rogues were an incongruous topic. I gave Lucien a look.
"Some inhabitants are slightly fanatic about Rogues," she supplied.
More daily, or at least what appeared to be daily, conversation accosted us.
"Did you hear about the recent bank raid?"
"You mean, the one where the Whippoorwill showed those bastards what the people were made of and stole a large portion of the money?"
"The Whippoorwill is my hero. I want to be just like him when I'm older."
"Who is more handsome: Arnalde, Andre, or K.C.?"
"Arnalde Mote, by far. Everybody must agree. I mean his blue eyes are so superb."
"Yes, they are like a void into some deep abyss of mystery that only angels can understand."
"What about Andre Carre?"
"He's a fine man but quite old, right?"
"I like older men."
Lucien cringed. "I correct my previous statement: most are incredibly fanatic."
We arrived at an inn where the owner lauded us with jovial pats and excessive attention. Did we know anybody around town? So we were new to the area? We looked fatigued—nothing a hot bath wouldn't fix! He had some fine rooms, top quality he was sure we'd love. Let him get the keys and call his daughter to get hot water and—don't worry about the horses. They would get hay and water and a place to rest in the stables. Carrots? Well, he guessed he could get carrots if they preferred eating that, though the hay here was pretty fine. Oh well, carrots it was. We looked hungry. Did we want breakfast? He'd get his wife to get a meal ready for us. She was a good woman, a fine beautiful woman. So patient and caring. Oh, he felt we would become the best of friends… He was called Richard by the way, but what were our names again?
"I'm Lucy, my friend is Sara," Lucien answered.
He jotted our names onto the registry without question. No doubt Lucy and Sara sounded more believable as names than our real ones.
One hot bath later, I felt rejuvenated and more like my old self. The water had washed off grime, dried blood, and degrading memories. My skin felt smooth again. My hair was no longer matted. I tied it into a bun and observed myself in a dirty mirror. My face was thinner, my cheeks less plump than before. Dark circles lined underneath my eyes. My recovery was not full but inside I felt uplifted. At least I wasn't reduced to resembling a savage any longer. At least I looked proper.
That was my sole consolation.
Lucien was already at our breakfast table when I entered the inn's pub. Reading a newspaper, she sipped a cup of tea and nibbled on buttered bread.
"You look a lot brighter," she said when I sat down. She slid a plate of bread towards me. "Richard's wife is still preparing our breakfast. He told us to have some bread while we waited."
"No thank you," I said, eyeing it with mild resentment. "I've had enough bread for life."
Compared to the last inn I visited, the building was nicer. The walls were painted a calming blue and landscape paintings, though mediocre in craft, decorated them. There were no rats or cockroaches or rather none were visible. The tiled floors were shoddily fashioned but it was a sign of carpeting at least. The tables were sturdy and polished. The chairs, though uncomfortable, didn't rock or creak. Compared to my aristocratic life, the inn was too simple. Compared to my recent life, it was a relief.
"This place doesn't seem dangerous," I commented. "The people seem nice if slightly obsessed."
"I told you: every paradise has a hell," Lucien said. "This is a Rogue town and the aspect involved with Rogues is this place's hell. If Kivlan decided to visit Ischenie on vacation, I wouldn't have an issue. It's the fact Des Mars brought him here that bothers me. It means other Rogues are going to get involved and we don't need that."
Lucien waved at me to be silent as the innkeeper's wife, a slender and rosy woman, appeared with plates of food.
"Hallo, my dars," she greeted. "So you're tha nawast payple to grace our fair town. My nam's Myrtle and I'll ba you're gracious host along with Rich."
"Lucy," Lucien said smacking on a large grin.
"Sara," I introduced.
"Plased to mat you," Myrtle said. She placed the plates down. My mouth watered seeing the grilled sausages, fried eggs, and steaming soup. "I hope you anjoy the food. Cooked tha brakefast rall spacial for you."
"Thanks," Lucien said.
"Yes, the food looks delicious," I added.
Myrtle beamed. "I'll ba in tha kitchan so if you want more, don't ba afraid to call ma."
Left to the food, I spared no time to begin eating. I took ravenous bites, savoring the way the flavors tickled my taste buds. Finally there was something in my mouth besides stale bread. The innkeeper didn't lie: Myrtle was a fantastic cook. Her dishes, though simple, erupted with tang and spices. I forsook any shame at my animalistic behavior. I was hungry. I could bury my face in pillows of embarrassment later. My groveling stomach commanded me to dine faster.
Lucien took smaller bites, a mark of being accustomed to eating little. Her stomach had likely shrunken, grown used to bread. Unlike me, her body kept pace on her dash towards accepting her state. She already reached the finish line, her award grace and self-restraint.
The innkeeper, who introduced himself as Richard, kept visiting our table. There were other guests but being the newest ones, we garnered most of his interest. His doting manner reminded me of how the servants treated me back in my Ellisen. I welcomed it. I doubted I would ever not welcome anything that reminded me of home. Not only did my body lag in the race but my mind did as well.
"So why are you visiting our dear town?" Richard asked us.
"We're actually looking for some work," Lucien said, "and this town looked so beautiful that we felt we had to stop and see if there was anything we could do here. Have you heard of anything available?"
The innkeeper rubbed his beard. "Butch, our farmer, needs more help delivering milk."
"The job sounds nice and all but Sara is a bit gangly, if you haven't noticed," Lucien said cocking her head towards me. "Can't really do something requiring lifting."
"A restaurant needs some help in the kitchen."
"Sara can't cook to save her life."
"Old Man Fenway needs some caretakers. He got injured pretty terribly in an accident. Got whacked in the head and bled quite a bit."
"Sara would make a terrible nurse. Gets woozy at the sight of blood."
My grip tightened on my fork and I clenched my teeth. Why did all of her excuses deal solely with my uselessness?
"Oh, I heard the Whippoorwill was looking for help," Richard offered. "His wife and daughter need new maids. The last two got married. Maybe that'd be more suitable for Sara and you."
Lucien hummed as she considered the information. "Sounds interesting. I'll look into it. Thanks tons!"
"Don't mention it," Richard said smiling.
"Richard!" A man ran to the innkeeper, interrupting Lucien. The man looked familiar but I wasn't certain where I saw him. His features weren't too distinct—light brown eyes, a round face, black hair and beard, a normal build. Still his appearance struck a chord with me.
"What's wrong, John?" Richard asked.
"Nothing's wrong at all!" John responded. "Actually I have amazing news. The Vinchant des Mars just returned a few days ago. He's been shutting himself in Mr. Mote's house, but I just saw him around town this morning!"
His comment made me remember. John was the man spreading news of Vinchant's return when I first arrived in town.
"Why, I'll be," Richard said. "What happy news! Myrtle will be terribly excited. She really admires Mr. Mars."
"I wonder what he's been doing this past year."
"Probably bringing justice for us little folk."
"Fighting the damn aristocrats."
"Saving people in distress."
"Giving those wretched rich men the beatings they deserve."
I nearly choked on my sausage. As I drank my milk and coughed down the meat, Richard's attention returned to us. His smile shone brighter than the sun.
"Have you heard of Vinchant des Mars?" he asked.
I didn't know how to respond. My anger at his name was too large to swallow down. If I tried, I would have choked for the second time in the morning.
"Name sounds familiar but I don't believe so," Lucien said. She sipped her tea, no change in her expression. Her control amazed me.
"He's a fine fellow, girls," Richard said.
"A fine fellow indeed," John agreed.
The two left, probably to tell Myrtle the news. I gazed at my breakfast. Suddenly it looked less appetizing than before. My spoon lifted some soup but I placed it back into the bowl. My stomach snarled but my mind won. I wasn't going to eat anymore.
"I don't understand why they love him so much," I said.
Lucien gulped down her soup. "He's one of the nicest Rogues."
"He didn't seem nice to me."
"I didn't say he was an angel," Lucien said, "but compared to other Rogues, he's nice."
I folded my arms across my chest. I felt her stare on me but I couldn't meet it. I shifted my focus to one of the paintings. Vibrant oils depicted sunflowers in a field. "Still I don't like him roaming these streets."
"It'd be worse if he was captured and killed."
I turned to her, raising an eyebrow. Vinchant's capture meant one less menace to society. That was hardly terrible. Lucien sighed and leaned back on her chair. Eyes trained on the ceiling, she tapped her spoon on her bowl's rim.
"Remember when you asked me why I forged the elopement letter?"
The topic had no relation to Vinchant but I nodded my head anyways.
She waved at the air. "That's why."
"That scene you just saw with the innkeeper and his friend. That's why I forged the letter."
"I still don't—"
"Don't you see?" She straightened herself. Steely cold eyes met mine. "Des Mars is beloved by these people and believe me when I saw these sentiments extend to a majority of the impoverished and middle class. He rivals the Troubadours in popularity."
"Troubadours?" My forehead wrinkled as I rolled out the syllables. I had heard it before but I could not remember where. "Who are they?"
She downed the rest of her tea as if it was alcohol. "A couple of foolish dreamers hoping to save their country. The most infamous Rogues in recent modern history."
"They never killed a soul. All they ever did was to rob the government reserves, cause massive displays of protest, and reveal government secrets. Their goals were to not harm but to give the people power against the lies spewed to them. Regardless, they were executed."
"Did they kidnap anybody?" I asked. Lucien said the Troubadours were Rogues like Vinchant and Arnalde. Being a Rogue was a specific character and I saw no way of acting the part to the fullest without causing terror.
She scoffed. "They were above torture. They used their own wits to steal the information they wanted. You won't find anything against them. They were peaceful folk. Never deliberately hurt people and if they fought, it was more for self-defense."
"Maybe you're just biased."
She stuffed a whole sausage into her mouth and bit down. Hard. "Bias or not, do you want to know what happened after their deaths? Uprisings everywhere, riots for days, the works!" Her hands slammed on the table. I flinched. She continued on her tirade. "For a moment, people believed their death signaled change, that the current government would crumple for a better one. Soldiers easily crushed all protest, however. The events were unplanned, a display of strong emotions, nothing capable of sustaining for long."
"How long ago was this?"
I gaped. I was alive back then, nearing the cusp of adolescence. I had just begun reading the newspaper, paying more attention to the gossip. I didn't recall any mention of unrest. In fact, none of the aristocrats were too anxious.
She huffed and tore at another sausage. Her constraint had disappeared, leaving an image of someone not Lucien. At least not the Lucien I knew. The Lucien I knew, regardless when she acted as a servant or savior, remained calm and careful. She never let her emotions take reign. Not like this.
"The government probably kept you aristocrats ignorant," she seethed. "Best not to spoil your fun."
The Lucien I knew had a jabbing tone, a bite to her words, but never was she so blatant with her animosity. While the forest had allowed her to overlook her various roles, Ischenie infected her with its anger. She had casted aside her servility and bared the turbulent fire in her heart for all to see. She must have realized the same because she checked herself. Pouring another cup of tea, she took a small sip and spoke softer.
"Do you know the Rogues are planning a revolution against you?"
Even Lucien knew about this? Only the aristocrats were oblivious, it appeared. "I had heard from some reports that…"
"Yes, yes," she interrupted, "but what the reports fail to convey is the extent of the preparations made. They're organized, Miss Seriste, and they won't fail like they did five years earlier."
"So we're in trouble?"
"Not quite. Rogue Tara heads the whole operation but she's hesitant as are the people."
She leaned forward, eyes darting as she made certain no one was listening. Her voice was now a whisper. "Revolutions are nasty, Miss Seriste," she said. "It's an internal war and war is not a game to play whenever you feel like it. To ask people to risk their lives, that requires a lot of passion. So far people, including Tara, feel there is a chance to peacefully settle the differences."
"Do you think so?"
She didn't answer but continued her explanation. "But what do you think will happen if Des Mars, a Rogue adored by the people, is captured and executed?"
I was silent. I saw no way Lucien expected me to have an answer. I had known nothing about the uprising five years earlier. I would have known nothing about Ellisen's collapse if it wasn't for luck and coincidence. I had knowledge about the latest fashion, the best way to apply makeup, the correct manner to flirt with a man but nothing about my country's politics.
"Oh come on, Miss Seriste," Lucien said, "I just gave you the answer."
"The answer is in history."
I searched my mind for any history lesson Lucien gave me. My brain latched onto the Troubadours. Lucien had said they were loved by the people. She had also said their deaths caused an uprising…
"The people will get angry enough to revolt," I declared.
She deflated back on her chair. "Now do you see why I don't want Des Mars captured?"
Her logic was reasonable but I couldn't agree with it. "Still by forging the letter, you disregarded our safety."
"Just Kivlan's safety. Des Mars wouldn't touch a hair on your head unless you proved troublesome. I told you: he's one of the nicer Rogues."
"How are you so certain?"
"One: his reputation," she answered. "Two: I've met Tara, his sister. I hear they're similar in character, though Des Mars is not besides using violence to achieve his means. Tara would hurt neither you nor Kivlan. She hates hurting people."
"She wants a revolution."
"She organized it but she doesn't want it. Not until something provokes her."
I knew where the conversation was leading. I didn't like it. "And that something would be—"
"Her dearest brother's demise," she finished.
To think Vinchant's life determined so much. One human being—one measly life out of millions—affected an entire course of events. No, he wasn't a human being, not to his admirers. His work had made him a symbol of hope and better futures. I wondered if he knew he had accepted the hefty role.
"How are we going to save Advisor Kivlan then?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"We can't send for the authorities if Vinchant's capture will lead to what you say and the people here would never turn against him. So what do we do?"
She looked up from her plate. A smug smile appeared on her face, an indication my Lucien had returned.
"Persuasion and force," she answered.
"You'll see," she said. "The plan is simple and a little bit crazy but a good deal of our work has been done. Our innkeeper just gave us the fuel we need to get the fire started."
I paled at her cryptic answer. "So… what is this plan?"
A/N: Yes, I am back and please excuse me for taking longer than expected to update with a chapter. Adapting to college proved to take most of my time and when I went to break, I ended up writing the (tentative) last four chapters of The Memory Holder instead. Which is my guarantee to you that this story does have an ending and I will get to that ending... eventually.
Also: you may have noticed I changed this story's category to General. At first, I hoped to make TMH a romance novel but at 16 chapters and with no visible romance candidate (at least to the readers) I've realized my story's focus is more on the Seriste's development. There will be romance but I felt I was wrongly marketing my novel when the romance is less of a focal point.
Also: this update is the first part of chapter 16. I'm still in the process of completing the rest of chapter 16, but I wanted to get an update out before I returned back to college for my second semester (i.e. tomorrow).
Now I have a couple of questions:
1) Due to the large gaps between updates and writing, I'm always worried my character's voice isn't consistent. Did I manage to get Seriste's narration similar to previous chapters?
2) How were transitions in this chapter? I'm worried that some moments, in which I switched from Seriste's narrative to dialogue, felt abrupt.
3) Were there any moments where you felt I gave too much/little detail?
And then as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on characters (how I portray them-since I tend to be inconsistent at moments), plot, and writing in general. Any suggestions for improvement are welcomed!
Thanks to all my readers for sticking with this story for so long.