|The Black Royal
Author: TigressAyura PM
In medieval times, people with black hair (known commonly as the Black Ones) were accused of being witches and wizards regardless of their history or heritage. They were branded as outcasts, and in the worst cases, burned alive at the stake. For a long time, the people thought Queen Alia was barren, but when she finally brings forth a daughter, princess Keiko is a black child.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Words: 1,772 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 2 - Published: 01-10-13 - id: 3090888
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Prologue: The Black Child
A lone toddler, struggling to free herself from the stay-with-me vine and the brambles of the dark forest, fighting hunger. Thirst. Exhaustion. Overcome by the fear of the village she left behind. Away from the angry, fearful mob of faces that intimidated her, the waves of arms that hurled rocks at her, that launched torches and pitchforks at her, that grabbed her and threatened to toss her into the raging inferno they felt she deserved. That was days ago. The simple yet not-so-simple child wanted only what other children took for granted: food, shelter, friends, family.
A true blood-family was out of the question; the child had witnessed both parents burnt alive at the stake with one word resound in the background like an echoing curse: witch. Any other folk hated her, feared her, but she had not done a thing to any of them. She'd escaped from that living nightmare, had fled without a trace into the closures of the inviting forests, with its wide boughs to shield her from sight. But soon it had tuned dark, hollow, almost melancholy. The girl feared the dark, nearly as much as the folk. Her worst experiences happened at night, with no sun to comfort her. She wrenched herself free from the brambles and kept on; her pale, frail, starved body threatening to collapse with every step.
The night creatures stirred and the hollow forest soon became alive with noises, and the child's fear grew. Starvation forgotten, she increased her pace to a brisk walk, then more, then more until she was running as fast as her aching legs could take her. Branches lashed her face and arms. Her midnight black hair billowed about like a clumsy specter among the looming trees, darting in and out of the shadows and shadows of shadows of the night. Only when the noises began to fade did the child slow to a walk. The ghostly pale moon shone high overhead now, casting its light over the girl's pale but scratched skin and dark hair, over her torn, dirty dress, half in tatters from the cutting boughs that had seemed so friendly only hours ago.
Then a light, a small, dull yellow peeking out between the trees. The child hesitated, then ran towards that small sign of civilization. But when she was only yards away from the light's source, she stopped. It was a village, but like none she'd ever seen before. Instead of the varying textures of the natural ground and the dirt paths, hard stones made up the streets…cobblestones, she recalled someone calling them, in other villages she knew the houses were far apart and was made from wood and thatched roofs. Here the structures were all clustered together and were made of brick and stones. Fine carriages similar to the one she had seen the tax collector ride in lined the streets, with their horses locked away in the stables that were out of sight. All was silent and every street was empty. The light had come from a lantern perched atop a tall pole.
Taking a deep, shuddering breath, the girl crept from her secluded cover of the forest. She held her breath for a moment, but there was no disturbance. No doors being flung open, no shouts of alarm. She reluctantly stepped up to the closest door. A night breeze flew by and the girl shivered inside the ragged dress that did little to stop it. Placing her hair over her shoulders as an attempt to ward off the cold, she raised a tentative fist and rapped in the door twice. There was a long, agonizing wait before a light appeared and the door was swung open. A plump, sleepy-looking woman stood there, in nightgown, with rollers in her hair, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. When her gaze fell upon the girl, the woman's eyes grew wide and she let out a piercing shriek that made the girl flinch as the noise rudely interrupted the silence of the night. After the woman had yelled something about black hair and demon spawn, the child recoiled as the door was shut in her face.
She waited half an hour before trying again at another house and another as she slowly and painstakingly progressed down the street. Every house shut their doors at her. Any woman shrieked at her. All the men took yelps a fear and bellowed at her to be off. On many occasions, the people took the nearest object and hurled it at her. The girl's arms were streaked with scars from the porcelain, glass, or clay pots that hit her, and thin streams of blood ran down her arms.
Soon, fatigued and aching even more, she was in silent tears as she walked back to her starting point, doing her best to cradle her injuries. She intended to sleep on the hard ground in the forest, just as long as no one found her. But eyes wandering, her gaze fell on a large stable she had not noticed before. She circled it, searching for the familiar half-door, and stood on her tip-toes to peek over the top.
Warm air. That was the first thing she noticed. Warm air was blowing out of an opening like a window, then she realized it was a half-door, like she had seen back in her own village. She peeked in and laid eyes upon a vast variety of horse breeds, all finely cared for. From great mustangs to more docile-looking mares, they were all there. Most were resting, others not; but there was no caretaker in sight. The child scanned the stalls and was swept with a gale of joy as she saw an empty stall overlaid with fresh hay. She pushed open the half-door, wincing as it creaked, and shuffled over to the stall. The neighboring horse, a great but gentle chestnut-brown beast, lifted questioning eyes at her but made no sound. At the first touch of hay the girl gratefully sank to her knees, for it was the softest, finest quality hay she had ever felt. She lay down, all silent save for the whispering crackle of the hay and the soft sounds of a few horses' snores. Here the warmth of the place truly sank into her skin, and she shivered with delight. Without another thought she closed her eyes and sank into a light but sorely needed sleep.
As usual, she awoke to a scream. A flare of a lantern shone threateningly in her face. The toddler immediately flung her eyes open and backed up into the corner. A woman, dressed plainly as a maid, stood there. Shrieking in alarm. The girl, keeping a eye on the stranger, instinctively groped behind her for an opening, an exit – or even something that could distract the stranger even for a moment – but her sore, scratched hands only scraped the wooden back and more hay. She was trapped, and she could only huddle as far as she could out of sight and into the meager shadow of the corner, huddling herself tightly and praying no one would hurt her.
Then a door opened on the woman's left, and the woman was washed in a golden light of a better and brighter lantern. The woman ceased screaming and averted her eyes, and the girl spied a shadow looming over the woman, coming ever closer. The child shut her eyes, fearing the worst.
"Dear Mara, what is thy reason for that dreadful sound, that it must awaken me and send my blood running cold?"
The girl opened her eyes in utter surprise. The voice – though tired, sounded gentle, almost musical, and not at all threatening. A tall, beautiful woman walked in with such grace and elegance that she almost appeared to glide into view. She wore a simple nightdress of the finest, whitest linen edged with a thin, golden silk trim. Her long waves and curls of hair reached her mid-lower back and was a brighter gold than the gold of the clothing. Her skin had a soft, rosy touch unlike the child's skin, which was nearly white without the grime or blood. At a first glance, she seemed young – the child was reminded of an angel – but a closer look confirmed that she was middle-aged, but it was difficult to tell, her skin and features were nearly flawless. The eyes, also young-seeming, also had the sparkle of wisdom if you really looked. Even her voice, that soothing voice that made the young girl long to cry – it reminded her of her mother's – showed little signs of age.
"I apologize, milady," the woman – Mara, murmured, casting a furtive glance at the girl. The graceful woman caught the movement and turned to face the stall.
"And what do we have here?" she mused.
"A Black Child, sleeping here in our stables," Mara replied, with just a hint of contempt in her voice. "Perhaps I should call a guard - "
"Blather!" The woman interjected, a bit too swiftly. She paused to regain her composure. "You'll do no such thing." She sighed, and peered at the child. "She is nobbut a young maid, still in her tender years. One such as she can only wonder about the disturbance she never wished to create." Then she coaxed the child, "Come here, little one."
But the girl only shied away even further. The woman took a step closer to her but the child squirmed, struggling to put as much distance between them. The wooden wall made it a futile attempt, so the girl raised her arms over the rest of herself.
"Oh, the poor darling," the woman crooned, seeing the ugly scars and scrapes. "Everyone's mistreated thee, haven't they? Those dreadful scars…come here, dear." She held out her arms, but the girl made no movement. Then the child's mouth moved, muttering a question.
"Speak up, child," the woman suggested, with no hint of force in her voice. The girl looked up, eyes no longer fearing but now wondering.
"You…you're not…afraid of me?"
The woman scoffed playfully. "Why, no. Why do you ask?"
"Others are." It was a statement. The girl cast a cautious glance at Mara, who visibly flinched.
"Hmm. But thou dost not strike me as a figure of fear, little one." The woman studied the child. " Dost thou hath a name?"
There was a long silence before the child spoke, looking the woman straight in the eye. She sat up slightly straighter in the hay.
"Keiko. My name is Keiko."
CHAPTER 1 COMING SOON!