Elaine was lying on the floor? Why? She lifted her head and looked around, for the moment feeling groggy and confused. Her shoulder felt a little sore where it touched the wooden floor. When she finally recognized the room, and saw her bed above her she smiled. It would seem that during her sleep she had fallen off. So that was why she was on the floor. It would also explain the soreness in the right side of her body.
She pushed herself to her feet and stretched languidly. There wasn't much light coming in through the window, but still there was a little light. The sun was rising, and she was late.
Shaking off the last of her sleep she dressed quickly and ran downstairs to find the kitchen already occupied. A burly middle aged man stood at a sturdy wooden table occupying the middle of the room, rolling dough into loaf shapes.
"Sorry I overslept John." She apologized quickly, bowing her head. "What do you need me to do now?"
John looked up from his dough and smiled. You wouldn't think it from looking at his heavy brows and tough appearance, but John was actually a very cheerful man. "Not a problem lass." He assured Elaine. "I survived for years before you came; I can survive one early morning without you."
Elaine frowned. "You make it sound like you don't need me."
"I don't need you." He told her, still smiling. "I just want the extra help." He pointed to a stack of vegetables on the end of the table. "You could start by chopping vegetables for the stew."
Elaine gladly set to work. She had been working for John for about a month now, by her figuring. She hadn't paid much attention to the passing of days since she and Marten had arrived at John's inn, The Flowering Tree. They had been running for weeks, avoiding search parties and bandits, after leaving the manor. When they had finally arrived in the town of Green River, in Hertod, a small mountain country neighbouring Cirelle, they had been exhausted and nearly worn out. John had taken pity on them and let them stay in his stables, and when the next morning came, he asked if they were looking for a place to stay. Elaine and Marten had been grateful and taken him up on the offer, intending to rest, at least for a little while.
"Where is Marten this morning anyway?" Elaine asked as she peeled potatoes. Peeling potatoes had always been one of her least favourite things in the world, but she was happy to do it now. It gave her some feeling of normalcy at last, working in this inn, living just like anyone else.
"I sent him to put out more chairs in the common room. There's a peddler came in last night; expect he'll be staying to tell some stories at least, if he can't manage to sell some wares as well."
Elaine smiled. A peddler. She'd like to hear news of the outside world as well.
As the sun rose guests began to file downstairs, and Marten came into the kitchen to have breakfast before it became too busy.
"Good morning sleepy head." Marten greeted Elaine cheerily. Elaine grunted and finished cutting the vegetables and then threw them into the large pot over the fire. She was a little annoyed with Marten for letting her sleep in, and she thought he should at least know.
"Alright, eat your breakfast and get in there to help Sarah again quick." John told Marten. Then he said to Elaine. "Get the cakes started now."
Elaine didn't help with serving the guests. She had quickly proven herself to be too clumsy to do so, mostly because she had to avoid touching anyone, which was very difficult when the common room was crowded. This suited her just fine; she much preferred helping in the kitchen, though it meant she didn't always get to hear the gossip. But it also meant she stayed hidden most of the time, and she and Marten had agreed this was the best way.
As the day wore on and the common room grew busier she began to feel restless. She wanted to see the peddler herself, and hear what he had to say. She wondered if there was news from Cirelle; she still didn't know what had happened at the war's end. Only recently had outsiders begun traveling into Cirelle again. Surely there had to be news now.
She yelped as she burned her hand on a batch of freshly baked loaves and nearly dropped them all on the floor, only barely managing to catch them and throw them on the table. Watching her, John sighed.
"Alright, alright. Go ahead and see what that peddler has to say. I'll give you a break now, but you better come back and focus on your job once that's done." He told her. He smiled encouragingly when Elaine looked up at him. She smiled back and slipped out into the common room.
The peddler was standing on a bench, performing as though he were acting out a play, not telling the news. Elaine squeezed her way through the crowd, careful to keep her consciousness inside her own head, until she was close enough to hear clearly.
"They say there's hunting teams out in the forests of Cirelle." The peddler was saying. He seemed more rabbit than man, with his long pointed ears and a nose that twitched constantly. "Out hunting down the last of the Nicor. Anyone caught harbouring a Nicor refugee they'll throw in their jails." At this the crowd murmured in disapproval. Since getting out of Cirelle Elaine had come to realize that the Nicor were not the hateful race that she had been led to believe. While it did seem that most of the rest of the world for some reason still looked upon them as inferiors, she had yet to meet anyone who really agreed with the war the Cirellians had waged on the Nicor. Knowing this, she felt even more hopeless, even more frustrated. The things she had been told to do, the things she had done... She shook her head to clear her thoughts; now was not the time. Now she was listening for news.
"Their Queen's gone stark raving mad!" The peddler yelled, as if this were cause for amusement. And some did find it amusing, as a man behind her snorted. "She's gone and killed their last knights, besides the two she managed to get killed in the war. Of course now she's locked up in a pretty tower and the power's gone to their Magistrate. They're getting things back on track, as far as trade goes, which is how I've come to you today with fine Cirellian goods..."
Elaine moved away as the peddler began talking of his wares. When it became apparent that no one was so interested in buying as in hearing stories of the rest of the world he spoke of other countries. New Kings and old grudges. Some things were the same, no matter where you went. She went back to the kitchen.
Once the day's rush was over and she had finished up her work for the day Elaine took her dinner outside in the courtyard. It was empty tonight; now that the peddler had moved on there was no one interesting around.
Elaine sipped her drink and stared up at the night sky, digesting the news she had heard from the peddler. Two Knights had been lost in the war, he had said. She was one of them, but who was the other? She counted them off on her fingers, holding up six and putting them down one by one. She knew it wasn't Mina for sure. It wouldn't be Valry; Valry wasn't the type to die, or to run away. For that matter, Carrie hadn't seemed the type either; maybe that was why those two had gotten along so well.
Elaine put her hand in her lap for a moment. Either dead, or escaped. She knew it was most likely that whoever else it was that was missing, they had died in the war, but she couldn't help hoping that they too had run away. After all, if she had done it, why couldn't the others?
Maybe Rheanne. But then, though Rheanne had seemed to hate the Magistrate, she didn't rebel. She had talked to Elaine as though seeking an ally; Elaine wasn't sure she would have acted on her own. She kept that finger up anyway, just in case.
It wouldn't be Landon. He was too obviously in love with Vanali to rebel against her. No, he would have returned with the others to the castle, to be killed by Vanali. Elaine frowned. She didn't for a moment believe that rumour. Even if Vanali had gone insane, as perhaps the war had caused her to, Elaine doubted she would ever hurt another person. But then, she had gone to war against the Nicor. Elaine shook her head. No. That couldn't be true. That rumour must have been spread by the Magistrate, in order to allow them to take power. Elaine was really beginning to hate the Magistrate.
But back to the knights. The final Knight, Nate. Elaine smiled sadly as she realized how very much she wished that the other missing Knight was Nate, and that he too had escaped. She doubted she would ever see him again if he had, but still she wished he had gotten away. She wanted him to live. Maybe they would never go home, but they could make their own lives here. Nate would be welcome wherever he went; he would find a nice village to take care of him, he could be happy.
She bit back tears. She wanted him to be happy. She would have wanted them all to be happy, but that chance had passed them by, though she couldn't figure out when they had missed it. Maybe they had never had a chance. Maybe they weren't meant to be happy. The cursed Seven Souls of Cirelle.
She looked up when she heard footsteps, and smiled at Marten as he came to sit beside her. He peered up at the sky and asked, "What are we looking for?"
"A Miracle." Elaine answered.
Marten nodded and kept looking. Elaine too stared up at the stars, now familiar. She could pick out constellations now that Marten had shown her. This was her new sky. This was her world now. For the moment, she couldn't do much, still in hiding, but one day she felt she would go out and try to stir up some change. She wanted to change her world for the better, if she was going to have to live in it. Already there were plans stirring in her mind, thoughts of rebellion, of revolution. She turned and smiled at Marten. One day, she would leave this town and return to Cirelle, armed with new knowledge and power, but for now... For now she would live.