A/N: To Danielle Oaks: Sorry if these chapters seem a little slow in gaining momentum; I promise I'll pull my 'amazing shit' all in due time. I rarely write anything for no reason! To the rest of you: I love you all so much, I'm giving you two chapters in as many days! Read on!
Chapter 7—Will's Callousness
I made my way over to the barracks. With all the walking I've been doing lately, I better have killer legs to show for all of it. The only entrance to the barracks was a large set of double doors made of heavy, weather-beaten dark wood, banded in iron. As a result, they were unnecessarily heavy. I heaved with all my might, trying to pull one open all by my lonesome. It was slow going, made worse when I thought about all the ten-year olds who pushed these doors open every day with no sweat. After about eight solid minutes of pulling, propping, and praying, I had it opened enough to allow someone of my stature to slip through.
Inside was just one long hallway, all over dark grey flagstones, illuminated by oily torches in between every door. It wasn't too smoky, however; I want to figure out how they have such good ventilation in such an enclosed building. I trotted down, examining the small name plaques on each door, indicating the occupants. What happens if they run out of rooms? I wondered, as I began to jog. Small chance of that; one entire side seemed to be empty, at the moment. I found Chris's room, almost exactly in the centre of the hallway, and pressed my ear to the door. Sounds of snoring could be heard distinctly. I pounded on the door rapidly, hoping he was a fairly light sleeper.
The door opened immediately, which baffled me. No one sleeping enough to be snoring could possibly have gotten to the door so quickly. What's more, I could still hear him! But there he was, not looking the least bit sleepy-eyed. He grinned at the face I must have been making.
"Handy little spell, isn't it? You get really good at it when you're a page; comes in useful when you want to sneak out at night."
"Where would you go?" I asked.
"Gardens. Fresh air. My lady's chambers, for some. Or just to be contrary. Either way…I'm sure you didn't come to discuss why I'd want to sneak out of my room."
"You're right, I didn't. Can I come in?"
"Oh! Of course. Pray enter, my lady." I curtsied prettily, sweeping him my finest.
"Why, thank you, my lord—" He killed the effect by yanking my arm and pulling me in his room, hurriedly shutting the door.
"Enough of that, I don't want everyone and their maid seeing you! What is it you want, anyhow?" I gave him the sketchy outline: Aya missing, horse taken, search party needed. Chris sat down on his bed, as though I had punched him.
"Aya's gone? Why would she leave?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. Chris, this is the worst timing. I know ten-year-olds aren't known for their convenience, but really. Bronfé coming, Jonathan getting married, the palace is in an uproar! You have to help me find her." He bounced on his bed, his brow furrowed in thought.
"Do you think she's left the city?"
"That's what Alicia's finding out for me right now. Do I have any guesses? None. I have no idea if she's just sick of it here, or if she left for some other purpose. But I know she left for a purpose; she took Patches, and some supplies. She didn't wander away or get lost. You need to help me find her."
"Of course I'll help. But you hit the nail on the head: the palace is in chaos now. And once the delegation arrives here? We won't stand a chance."
"So that's out deadline? The arrival of the delegates?"
"Well, think about it: all the Legionmen will be constantly on call to parade around and look splendid. We'll always be on call to look splendid when they're sick of the Legionmen. Who's left? Alicia? She'll be kept busy making sure you look splendid enough. We'll all be on our toes from sun down to sun up. If she's not found by the time the delegation gets here…I think we may as well bid Aya a fond farewell." Now, that I hadn't considered. I sat down on the one chair in the place, an uncomfortable thing of straight-backed oak. Or at least, I think it was oak. It certainly was uncomfortable.
"That…hadn't occurred to me, but it makes sense, doesn't it? And when are they arriving, a week? We don't have much time. Every minute we're not looking for her is another minute she's away from the palace! Is there any sort of…magic trick to find her?" Chris blew a sigh. The question sounded stupid to me, but seemed commonplace enough for him.
"Not unless you gave her some sort of tracking charm before she left."
"What sort of tracking charm?"
"Oh, it could be anything: a coin, a bracelet, a hairpin, anything the person keeps on their body. As long as they have it with them, the spell-caster will be able to find them." I made a mental note to treat the jewels Will gave me with care.
"That's…fascinating. Well, I didn't, so I guess that nixes that option. We'll just have to do this the old-fashioned way, I guess."
"Ah well, there's nothing wrong with the old-fashioned way. Meet me on the jousting field this time tomorrow, and I'll have a search party organized." I blinked. I had expected this to be slightly more hands-on on my end.
"Oh…okay. Sounds good. I'll just try and find Alicia, see what the gate guard has come up with." He waved me out, already deep in thought. I exited quietly, though the hall was just as deserted as when I entered. I was heading back to the palace when I was intercepted by Aya's guard, the brain-case that let her through.
"Your Royal Highness!" He bowed low, but in very business-like manner, bobbing back up immediately. "I have orders to send you to the throne room when you have the chance." 'When you have the chance' meant that you were already late. I sighed and hiked up my skirts. Of course, the day I wore a dress was the day I would be rushing hither and yon.
"So noted, sir, thank you. You haven't seen my maid, perchance?"
"Afraid not, terribly sorry."
"Thank you anyway. Good day." I started running. This was Will's system, much like telling the maids I was looking for Alicia: tell every underling you can find who you're looking for, and one of them will run into that person sooner or later. It was my luck that I found them all sooner and later; every Legionman within eyesight tried to hail me, telling me that Will requested my presence. I wanted to snap back, asking them why, exactly, they thought I was running, if not to get there? I didn't have the breath to, though, and all the rest of my mental abilities were spent making sure I didn't trip.
The throne room doors were even more of a trial than those of the barracks. Already out of breath, my arms fell pitifully short of the required strength to wedge them open. This, apparently, was not my day for doors. I leaned up against them for a quick breather, then decided to change tactics. I began banging on the solid doors, wondering if anyone inside could hear me.
"Will! Your Majesty! It's me, Cheyenne! I can't open these stupid doors! Hello? Could I have a little help?" They opened unexpectedly, causing me to jump back, as they opened towards me. A burly herald-cum-official-door-opener to the royal family bowed officiously.
"I hope I can be of assistance, Your Royal Highness." I brushed myself off.
"Yes, thank you. Those doors can be a struggle to someone of my size." He didn't so much as crack a smile. Apparently, a sense of humour isn't a prerequisite for a palace job.
"As you say. His Majesty awaits you within. Allow me to announce you." The last statement was just that: a statement, not a request. A warning, more than anything else. He strode in and bellowed,
"Presenting, the Crown Princess, Her Royal Highness Cheyenne Barnaby!"
"Pray, enter," came Will's voice. I walked in. All this formality seemed silly; the room was completely empty save for Will and Amilié. I stopped in front of them, dipping the best curtsey I could manage.
"Well? I had every Legionman in the palace tell me that you wanted to see me." After all the formality, the lack of honorific made my statement seem all the more rude and informal. Oh well. Tough for him, if it mattered at all.
"Yes, indeed," he said, very self-important. "We've had a missive from the Bronfian delegation." I leaned forward. This might tell me what sort of time schedule Chris and I were working with.
"The dove just came in this morning; judging from the trip length and the time mentioned by King Farquhar, they are coming…earlier than expected." Of course. Fan-friggin'-tastic. Of course they'd come early.
"Well? How early are we talking?" I asked tersely.
"We expect them within the next day, perhaps the day after." I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to sit down. I might as well kiss Aya good-bye, now.
"Within the next day? I thought they were at least a week away!" I said, my voice cracking like a prepubescent boy's.
"As did we," said Will, frowning. "But it seems they've made unusually good time due to favourable winds." The winds. Even nature was working against me.
"Well, is everything ready?"
"Don't concern yourself," he said automatically. I tapped my foot, annoyed. Here he was, pulling that 'leave it to the grown-ups' attitude again. I didn't have time for this.
"Thanks for the heads-up, I guess. I need to go find Alicia and set my wardrobe straight." Will frowned.
"Alicia? Who in Korvin's name is Alicia?" I sighed. Of course. He didn't know my servant's name, because he hadn't bothered to name them in the first place! I know I keep harping on it, but it's the one aspect of Will that I find truly sadistic, though I think marrying his daughter to a forty-something guy ranks pretty high up next to it.
"My maid. She didn't have a name, so I gave her one."
"You named your maid?" Novel concept.
"Yes. I did. I named her after my sister."
"The dead one?" For a minute, I couldn't think, speak, breathe. The cruelty of the statement left me dumb. Alicia wasn't the dead one; she was my sister, always laughing, teasing, bragging about her swim team trophies, giving me noogies, smiling in her perpetually twelve-year-old wisdom, so intimidating to me, seven years old. A five-year gap never seemed to matter much to her. She was remarkably patient, for a preteen. Goodness knows I wasn't, when I was twelve.
The roaring in my ears wouldn't cease. The dead one. Alicia's death had nearly killed me. She wasn't dead to me, just dead to the world…did he have to remind me? What other sister did he think I was talking about? The Necklace only chose those alone in the world.
"Yes, sir. Alicia died on the cruise, same as my parents. If you'll excuse me." I could barely hear my own voice; if it shook, or sounded emotionless, I couldn't tell. I turned on my heel without waiting for further instruction from him and ran faster than I had coming here. Before I even reached the doors, tears were falling, blinding me, burning in my eyes. I stumbled past the herald, beyond caring what he might think of the heir to the throne bawling her eyes out.
Where should I go? I ran without direction, heedless, dodging servants and other various palace occupants. If I thought about the cruise too much, it would drive me crazy. But if I didn't…Will's remark would drive me there quicker. The dead one. He couldn't have cut my heart more if he had done so on purpose, or if he had drawn his sword and plunged it into my chest. Maybe that would be less painful.
Thud. I ran smack into something warm and soft, yet utterly unyielding. I debated raising my head to this pillar, at the risk of letting him see my tear-stained face.
"Cheyenne? By the gods, what's wrong?" Of all people: it was Jonathan.