Chapter 7The Scapegoat

"Few if any people do things, or even believe things because of reason."

Lya Kahlo

I won't fool myself or you; partly the reason I left so quickly and in such hurry was because I was afraid I would bail before I could even get close to the Star Tower; already, my heart was beating quickly and my mind was imploring me to forget that this event had ever happened.

Still, my feet continued on, forward, one step, one step, until, with a start, I realized I was next to the aviary. My headache had made my head ache and groan with pain, and already I was slightly dizzy and woozy. That was strange; I hadn't eaten or drunk anything strange that I could remember…

Once more, I shook my head, if only to rid myself of these thoughts. Anyways, I scoffed, who would want to poison me? There was hardly any reason to do so.

Was it only me, or was the aviary deathly still? Where were the exotic birds, the loudly cawing foreign chickens (I laugh at the thought, as well), the cocky peacocks, the scratchy-voiced macaws? I scoffed as I realized that, since it was night, the birds were most likely asleep.

There was only a nondescript, open door next to the clear walls.

Once again, I felt my mind whirl. What was Calista doing, mixed up in such business? Could she—I shook my head once more. Of course not. I was probably hallucinating; anyways, the corridor was dark and dimly lit. I could've mistaken someone else's handwriting for Calista's; it was perfectly within the realm of possibility.

The stairs next to the open door spiraled steeply upwards ominously, having room for only one person to climb up at a time. With a start, I realized the walls were dirty, grimy, stained. My heart was beating wildly in my throat as I made my way to the door.

As I made my way up the uneven stairs, I was painfully aware that, if someone—the Lady of the Castle, I was sure—came down, I would be fully exposed, having no chance whatsoever to hide at all.

My journey seemed almost ethereal, rather unreal, and everything had a sort of flat quality to it, as though it wasn't I who was actually doing the adventure, but as though I was reading it from some badly written book, some whimsical beginner's attempt at a thriller. I was curiously unreachable; there was no cold breeze in the air, or foreboding feeling—I had gone almost completely numb, I had fancied.

Immediately, there was the sharp click-clack of wooden clogs, and I froze. I imagine that I had a rather "deer-in-the-headlights" look in my eyes, as the rather new saying goes.

The shoes stopped just before a turn. My breath came and went in short, choppy gasps, and it was as though I was waiting to be caught, so loud I thought my breath sounded.

Seemingly after an eternity, the steps climbed up, slowly, hesitantly, and I heard the murmur of a slow, petulant, ill-mannered voice. A sharp muttered reply came back and there was silence.

My heart thudded wildly in my ribcage as I took a hesitant, ginger step forward. Perhaps I wasn't as numb as I thought I was.

There was a sharp turn and two long, elongated shadows flickered in the no doubt dim candlelight at the top of what I could only assume was the Star Tower.

"What? Didn't you get it?"

The voice was faded and dull, as if reaching me from a great distance, and curiously muted. But that wasn't what froze my heart; the voice was Calista's.

I wanted to scream out loud for help or jump out of hiding with an entire army at my disposal; I wanted to do something, anything, but all I could do was take in several deep, heavy breaths, utterly frozen.

"No, milady, my princess," came the petulant voice, an ugly, surly undertone is the voice, rather like the honey a cook covers his food in when cooking with something rotten.

"What!? But I specifically ordered that boy to give my note to you, Aabiya—wait! Oh, this is perfect! Our scapegoat received the note! Why, I would rather like to thank that page at the moment… I shall see to it that he gets a promotion when I become High Queen."

My breath caught in my throat; I was the scapegoat!? I, the blue nose with her head constantly buried in a book? Who would believe that—but dread chilled my heart even as my mind threw around these incredulous statements. I was no stranger to the fact that the nobles were constantly scheming for a way to rid themselves of us, the dirty-blooded nobles as I knew we had been called behind our backs. They would literally jump at the indictment that one of the Wittinghams had killed the king; soon they would find a way to charge Father, then Mother, then Olathe and Lynette.

And yet the only thing I found myself able to do was half-sit, listening with growing trepidation at Calista's schemes.

"Princess—"

"Soon to be High Queen!" came a squeal of barely concealed glee. "And yes, yes, Aabiya, don't be greedy. It is most unbecoming of a lady—oh, I forget myself. You're not a lady, now are you? And you do remember that only I can make you a lady? A noble?"

"Of course, my prin—my queen. My barely worthy existence was merely reminding—"

"Reminding? Aabiya, darling, I need no reminding. I am perfect, after all, and a perfect being doesn't need any reminding."

Calista spoke of reminding as though it was poison; I could just imagine the ugly look that would transform her face as her tongue would distastefully make out the offending syllables.

"Of course, of—"

"I must say," cut off Calista abruptly, "where is Father? He was supposed to be here a while ago… You stay here, Aabiya; I'm going down—"

"Why?"

"I'm going to find Father and ask him why he's so late…"

There were steps coming down once more. In that instant, I knew I would be found. Doing the first thing that seized my mind, I began running down, hoping to get out the door and form a plausible excuse for my being there.

"Who're you!?"

Calista's voice, shrill and surprised, echoed throughout the cavernous passageway, which was little more than a cave. I turned slowly, gingerly, seeking to prolong my inevitable fate.

Now Calista smiled, a positively deranged grin, long and crooked. "Ah, Abia. Well, I must say, this is a surprise, isn't it? Why, a little longer and I'd be wondering where you'd gone off to. Come then, Abia, my dear. We can't keep your namesake-sharing waiting, now can we? I must admit, she's positively dying to meet you. She's wondering on the character of our ever so generous scapegoat, volunteering to take all the blame."

I took a step down, a step back. "Well, Calista. I wonder how the king, your dear father, would react to the fact that you're planning his murder!" It seemed that the best way to somehow get out of this tangle was to directly confront Calista.

Calista's seemingly childish temperament disappeared, to be replaced by a positively frightening woman. Then, once more, she smiled, a bright, radiant smile. "Oh, Abia. What ridiculous things you dream up of! Of course I'm not going to murder the king!"

And I knew in that moment she would.