Yeah, I know. This is a short chapter. But I figured the last line was a pretty good line to stop at. I have a lot of time on my hands with my new job, so I figure I can update more frequently. Don't forget to check back at the story's website!
Chapter Seven - Recollection
"Mommy, I don't want to go to Actona!" I demanded at the age of seven, stomping the ground with my food with a temper, "the prince smells funny and all he ever does is pick on me!"
"Don't let him," she crooned, "Besides; it will only be a few days."
"But he's mean!" I replied.
"I will not say it again, Alex. You will keep your temper in check and behave as a proper prince should in front of your hosts. The Augustus family is an extremely prestigious family and we will do well to honor them, am I clear? No matter how much Prince William teases you, you will bring a good name to our own family by showing respect."
"What do I get out of it?" I commanded in a way that would have made my father chuckle in amusement. My mother sighed and gave in.
"I'll buy you a bow and arrow set," she promised.
It is amazing how time can settle even the most disagreeable feuds. Prince William had grown taller than I had – even though it was predictable because females were generally more petite than males were, it still shocked me. He sent me a worried smile as if all the years that I had been thrown in the dirt by him had never happened – or the times that I sent stones at him with my slingshot – or how he would send his hounds to chase me down – or how I liked to push him into the water where water snakes slithered - or how he stole my daggers and I had to endure my father's wrath – or how once I had dropped his cat into the tub with him – all had never happened.
"Let's go," I said after staring at him long enough to make myself look foolish. I rode behind everybody and quietly followed them down the paths. I had not seen the man – no, young man – for years. Surely I had grown too? I hope not in a way that would identify me as a girl. No, impossible. My father had seen me grow up, he would have hinted about it by now.
I sighed. I knew I should be more concerned about Hector… but for some reason I couldn't keep my mind off of how much Will had grown or the memories of my childhood. I wonder how much Actona has changed. I remembered the palace only; I had stayed there every time I visited.
Hours went by and Frances had gotten the bleeding under control, but he still needed medical treatment. And after another hour, large, white blocks of stone met us around the gate. I remembered this vaguely.
"State your name and reasons," an abnormally low voice commanded us as we came to the large doors that looked like they had seen better days. William strode in front and called up:
"Open the gates, Smith," he commanded.
"Your majesty! Of course," he bellowed and something behind the door began to clink and the brown doors slowly opened. A rush of cold air blew around my face and I peeked inside. People ran about, laughing and drinking, children kneeled on the ground, playing games involving sticks and pebbles. William walked in confidently as some of the guards that had been guarding the doors left their post to escort and protect him. Not that he needed protection, all of the people around us looked at him cheerfully, happy to see his return.
The children had abandoned their game and were ducking behind the guards to catch a look at the prince, laughing and waving and throwing weeds – that looked like flowers, of course – into the air above him. William laughed melodiously, but seemed to catch himself soon after.
"I will have to ask you all to move aside," he told the people as they studied the rest of us following William. "We have a wounded man here that needs medical assistance. Please, he needs help immediately."
Excited whispers flooded the crowd and I could see that some young ladies had run ahead and warned the other people on the main road to make way. I was jealous – my country was so different from this one. Guards would have been a necessity in my country. Here, it was almost as if they were there to keep people from surrounding him in excitement.
"Oh, dear," an elderly woman whispered as the carriage finally pulled in. The whispers grew silent and they watched curiously. I blushed and kept my head down.
"What could have happened?"
"Is the prince hurt?"
"Oh, poor traveler!"
"Is he going to make it?"
I shivered, fear finally setting in. What if Hector didn't make it? Where would I be after that? I depended on him a lot – from my father's wrath – to keep me company – the thought that he might die was unbearable. I looked up to him in my youth; he was almost more like a father to me than my own was. We made our way down the streets of staring eyes until we came upon another gate that was already opened for us. It led to the castle and I knew it well.
When we got inside, people were bustling about with linen, food and water, trying to get prepared for Hector. He couldn't be that badly hurt, could he? I refuse to believe it as two men holding a rug made of thick material set Hector on it and carried him into another room.
"How bad does it look?" I asked Frances as the activity eased up and we were left in the grand hall with William.
"His arm has the worst of it, its cut deep. They also stabbed him in the side, but it only seems to be a gash. There's just so much blood," she sniffled and Thomas rolled his eyes. I felt like kicking him, but decided against it.
"I assure you, I have the best doctors available in there with him. Everything will be just fine," William promised. "In the meantime, why don't we catch up? There is tea and sweets being served in the courtyard."
I nodded, quietly and Thomas and Frances followed him to where Will and I had practiced with daggers when we were nine or so. There were decorated chairs around a finely painted table.
"The last time I was here was the time our fathers set up a tournament between the two of us. I remember how I had successfully won the race before you even made it around the pond," I smiled wistfully.
"I remember that day quite well, and if I am not mistaken it was you who tripped over a log and fell into the water as I made it past the finish line," William returned, smiling slightly.
"No, no, it was –"
"It was rainy and you tripped in the mud –"
"You know perfectly well I –"
We both found the absurdity of our argument extremely amusing. We both started laughing and making teasing jabs at each other to keep the memories alive. None of us felt any animosity towards the other, but it was familiar territory that we could use to ease the stressful situation. Thomas grew bored with us and excused himself and Frances looked as if she would like nothing more than to join him, but thought better of it because she feared that she would end up attacking him once again.
"So what brings you to Actona?" William asked, munching hungrily on a cupcake.
"We're searching for Caroroot," I told him. He raised an eyebrow and drowned his cake down with some tea to clear his throat.
"Caroroot? What for?"
"It's my mother, she's been poisoned," I told him, quietly. He chewed more slowly and stared at me as if I had said something particularly stupid. I only raised both eyebrows, trying to get a response out of him.
"I don't understand… why would anyone want to hurt your mother?" he questioned after swallowing. Why wouldn't people want to hurt her? She was blamed for not directing my father's attention to the people. Though, if anyone should be blamed, it would be my father. Unless…
The poison was meant for me.