Kagerou453: Here I present the third chapter, in which things don't go as smoothly for our heroine as she thought they would. Welcome!
I'd like to again thank my reviewers for the last chapter - I'm glad you like my story. I hope you still continue to read my story too, heh.
So, once more, look for notes at the end of the chapter for anything that you may be confused about. I try to accommodate, but if you still find something unclear, then I will be glad to add in a note about it. I try to be unclear only when it's on purpose (wink). And without further ado, let the story continue!
"Joseph…do you think that my aunt and uncle may send me to court?"
"You sound rather sullen at the idea Miss. Would it be so horrible?" he asked in return as he resumed carefully pouring water into the flower vases.
Joseph's cryptic words returned to me again, ringing distantly in my ears like an echo: "Then if you are so opposed to this certain knowledge…you will simply have to change one of the factors."
Then I knew how to escape the certain, horrible knowledge…I just never expected that the butler would think of it!
Chapter 3: The Unexpected
"We've enough dresses, Aunt Aurelia…"
"Nonsense, Paige! You have assets and influence and you must show that! Not like these commoners who own but a single ensemble in their wardrobes…"
I sighed as I looked away from my aunt, tuning out the rest of what she had to say. Spying out from the corner of the carriage window, I tried to watch the happenings outside without letting anyone see me.
Honestly, I was embarrassed. It was at times like these when I actually didn't want to be in town, and would have rather locked myself in my room at the manor for the entire day.
Most of the townsfolk that I saw regularly knew that I was the niece of aristocrats, including Caspian (and I got teased endlessly because of it). I always came into town as a fellow "commoner," though, maybe even worse for wear. Occasionally, however, Aunt Aurelia decided that I needed a new wardrobe and came with me into town in a carriage that pretty much radiated all of her imperial glory.
If any of the boys saw me now, I would never hear the end of it…
All I could do was sigh again and daydream about burying my head in the sand…
"…and when Prince Hadyn comes – oh! We must have the perfect dress for you!"
At that, my eyes snapped back to my aunt. Of course, why hadn't I thought of that before? No wonder the carriage was practically bursting with newly-bought goods. There were so many packages that they couldn't even all fit up top; some were lying right next to us on the carriage floor…usually a humiliating sight for people of "such status" but Aunt Aurelia claimed that these "commoners would not be able to tell the difference."
"You will have to look your absolute best for his visit tomorrow," Aunt Aurelia commanded as she spotted another clothing shop with pricey gowns displayed in the windows. She hurriedly called for the driver to stop.
'I won't have to look my best…I won't be here.'
That thought left an uncomfortable knot in my stomach, and suddenly the town, the packages, and Aunt Aurelia, calling for me to come out of the carriage…had never felt so far away…
I was actually sad…and that was surprising.
A few times, it even felt like I was looking at myself from beyond me, wondering what the hell I was doing, sitting on my bed and staring sadly at everything in my room when I should have been gone hours ago. It was…it was unnerving.
My room was still dimly lit…the only light came from the pale glow of the sunset. I couldn't help but think that at any other time, I would have loved nothing more than to climb out of my window, get a few cuts on my hands from the tree that I always scaled, and lay in the meadow behind the manor, looking at the clear, bright stars above.
I tried to muster up that same excitement that I always got, tried to make my legs stand up and walk to the window and climb out…but I couldn't. I felt…dim. My usual spirit had left me, and I felt like the sun was mocking me because of it.
Looking around at the pale silhouettes of everything that had been in my room for the past seven years…the intricate silver grooming items – the comb, the brush, the hand mirror – the dark wooden dresser that had beautifully carved mountain flowers, the dressing screen in the corner, the tapestry over my bed…
I had resented this place, these things for so long…well, not these things. These…had been the only things I'd had in this room for seven years. No one who ever came into my room really saw everything that was there. No one appreciated them or took the time to honestly consider them. They were just pieces of furniture…and because of that, they were like my little secret treasures.
Was it odd to get so attached to inanimate objects? They were just…comforting to me. Hating everything else around me for so long, I had to find that sort of comfort and familiarity in something, didn't I?
I was going off on a tangent, I knew that…but it was hard not to.
I felt like I was already gone. A thought hit me earlier that evening…I had never really managed to call this place my "home." I always called it "the house" or "the manor," but home…it had never felt like home. I'd never wanted it to be a home…
…but it was the only home that I had known for seven years, and now I was leaving.
Would my aunt and uncle care that I was gone? Would they look for me? Would they…miss me? What would Rose think? What would she do? What would happen to my things? My room? My…dresses?
I sighed shakily, holding my hands together tightly in my lap. I would miss Rose…even her nagging and lecturing. I would miss Joseph too, and the cooks, and the gardeners…I…I would even miss my aunt and uncle… Thinking that they might not miss me back…that was sad too.
I suddenly wanted to put the whole thing off for a few more days – just for the chance to walk around and remember everything once more, to see everyone for a little longer, to wear a couple of those dresses so I could keep in mind why I hated them so much, to wish more than anything that I could say goodbye to them all…
But I couldn't. The prince was coming tomorrow. I had no time to see anyone anymore, or to walk in the garden and through the house. No one could know that I was running, no one could suspect a thing…so I could never say goodbye.
That was the saddest thing of all.
There was a bag next to me. A dull, brown satchel bag. I was proud of it; it had been my father's from after he had renounced his aristocratic title and ran away from home. He'd bought it off of a traveling wizard who had actually been the one to show him to our faire…
Of course, it was common knowledge that nothing that passed through the hands of a wizard came alone. Heh, perhaps my father had just been oblivious…or extremely lucky.
The bag was chock full of pockets and compartments inside, like a miniature labyrinth. I'd put a few things in it: a few sets of spare clothing (I was wearing that same filched stable boy's outfit myself), some money that I'd kept hidden away…my aunt and uncle could take it out of my inheritance. There were also smaller things…soap, a toothbrush and some toothpaste…those sorts.
Ugh…as much as I hated to admit it…I was a girl. Cleanliness and good grooming were important to me…not to mention that it had been forced down my throat for the past few years.
How did everything fit inside? Well, that was why it was called a wizard's bag. I'd never even learned the wizard's name from my father, nor what he looked like; there were only the initials R.A.E. stitched into the inside of the cover.
Hn…going off on a tangent again. Now the sky and the room were a little darker. I could make out fewer details of the things around me…my aunt and uncle would be asleep soon. They didn't like for the servants to disturb them with running around and working late, so it was a policy that they would all be at sleep now too. I had to leave.
I stood up. It was a moment of shutting out all thoughts from my head and using pure will alone. At the same time, I grabbed the strap of my bag and swung it up onto my shoulder. It was a little heavy…but that was understandable. I put so much in it…
I looked around one last time, fleetingly. One last look and then I would walk out without turning back. I would just leave the house and that would be the end of it.
…I hesitantly walked to my vanity table. Small, carved cherubs looked down at the table from the large mirror at the back. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper…it was only slightly crumpled. I'd written it earlier that evening, when I realized that leaving my aunt and uncle…would be harder than I had thought it would.
Aunt Aurelia and Uncle Nicola,
I'm sorry. I wanted to say that before anything else. I know that I was never able to become what you wanted of me: A lady that would succeed you and keep your titles and money going, but I don't think that you ever realized that as much as I never wanted to become that, I also simply couldn't.
You know, probably much better than I do, that part of being in a noble class, part of keeping a position in high society, means giving up a lot of thing; much more, in my eyes, than you actually gain. You have comfort and you have power, but neither of you were ever very happy with those. I know that you always disapproved of me, and of my father, but I'm not willing to give up what you did.
I wanted to tell you that I've been a brat for all these years…I've been insolent, rebellious, ungrateful, and I've done everything that I possibly could to anger and worry you as much as possible…and I appreciate all that you've done for me. I appreciate you giving me a home and family when my own were destroyed, and for putting up with me even after I must have grated on your last nerves, and for trying your hardest to give me what you thought was the absolute best. I never told you Thank You for any of those things, and now…I would really like to. So much.
I'll miss you. I hope that you will miss me too. I really hope so much that you will. Could you please say Goodbye to Rose and Joseph for me? And the cooks and gardeners, even though they're just servants, I will miss all of them too, very much. I would also appreciate if you would tell them that I'm so sorry I could not say this myself.
Goodbye Aunt Aurelia, Uncle Nicola.
P.S. Perhaps I will come back to see you again one day. If I do, I hope that you will be here to greet me back, very much.
I recognized three round stains on the paper that nearly smudged a couple of the words. I laid the note on the vanity table, "What's wrong with me…"
I wanted to believe everything that I had written down. I wanted to believe that they had taken me in because they cared about me, and not just because I was the sole heir to the family line; that they had tried to raise me to be a lady because they wanted me to be happy. That they had put up with me for so long for those same reasons…
That they would welcome me if I ever came back…when I ever came back…
I paused for just a moment more at the vanity table, looking at the silver brush and comb and mirror…I hesitated before carefully picking them up and opening my bag, to put them in their own pocket.
I gingerly put my fingers around the lock, slowly turning it to hush the inevitable 'Click' as much as possible. The house was so quiet…all the maids and cooks and gardeners were asleep in their own chambers. None of them dreamed that their young Miss had walked right past their doors, and they might never see her again…
"Are you going somewhere, Miss?"
My heart skipped a beat and I gasped sharply, or I tried to. I think I might have actually exhaled…either way, it was full of panic, it was breathy, and I was left with no air afterwards. I almost slammed into the door as I stumbled over myself to whirl around.
There stood Joseph.
"Powers, Joseph!" I whispered sharply, weakly, with one hand clutching at my heart and the other gripping the strap of my satchel bag in a death vice, "You scared the hell out of me!"
Joseph smiled, "My, already throwing out those proper speech lessons that you had to sit through for hours..."
I stared at him for a moment. He was still smiling. It was past nightfall now and if it weren't for the candle that he was holding, I wouldn't have been able to make out any of his features. I could see him clearly. He was staring patiently back at me, with so much…understanding, and a familiar laughing glimmer in his eyes…
"I…I guess I shouldn't be so surprised," I finally said, smiling slightly, "After all…you gave me the idea."
"I did no such thing, young Miss," Joseph closed his eyes and crossed his arm up to his heart loyally. The smile never left his face. "I merely looked to preserve the comfort of my Mistress when she chose to converse with me, as is my duty."
I stared at him again. Something about what he said and the way he had said it…struck me. Something was off about it. Were servants supposed to be so…cunning? Not to mention cryptic and mysterious…? I couldn't stop the smile that slowly spread across my face as I looked at him with complete fascination and bewilderment. I didn't even know why I was smiling.
"…Why do I suddenly get the feeling that you weren't always a butler?" I murmured. He heard. He opened his eyes once more and lowered his arm, and his smile widened only ever so slightly. He never did give me an answer.
"Is everything in order Miss?" he asked me instead. I knew what he was asking…'Are you ready to leave then?'
I looked down at the ground. I gripped the strap my bag a little more tightly and inwardly went through everything that I had wanted to take, wanted to leave, wanted to make sure of…
"Yes…I believe so Joseph," I answered, weakly smiling up at him once again.
"In that case…" he stepped closer and I moved aside as he grabbed the door handle, pulling it carefully and swinging it back. He held it open for me as he graced a deep bow. "The world awaits you."
…This seemed familiar. I couldn't move again. I seemed to be staring at Joseph a lot lately too, even as he stood straight once more and smiled at me. That understanding, kind smile. He stood there so patiently, watching me and silently encouraging me, beckoning me out the door…he was most certainly no butler…
Before I knew what I was doing, I hugged him. So this was why he was here – this was why he came down to see me off.
"Thank you," I said into his shoulder, my voice coming out muffled and shaking. I couldn't even begin to list everything that those two simple words included. Thank You…for being the maids and cooks and gardeners, and Aunt Aurelia and Uncle Nicola. For being my last walk around the manor and my last dress and cup of afternoon tea. For…for being my chance to say goodbye. How could I ever repay him for giving me that?
"You will be missed Paige."
I almost looked up at him in surprise…but then, I really shouldn't have been very surprised.
The manor stood quietly. Not a soul moved inside and all were asleep. No one suspected or worried…no one would ever know about this moment, except for Joseph and I…out in the trees and brush that surrounded the manor, there was new life. It was a quiet life, calm and patient, that was not seen before the sun set, and did not disturb what was. The town below the manor was perfectly quiet. Now, the temple bells would ring only at midnight, and then not again until the first hour as dawn came. All the townsfolk were peacefully asleep in their homes; the shops were closed and only the temple itself showed faint light. Beyond the town, the forest that lied ahead rustled with the wind and the quiet, calm life of the night. Beyond the forest, the mountains stood, tall and proud under the pale glow of the crescent moon. Above the mountains, the sky draped like a dome over the world, infinite and dark among the speckle of stars as it reached out farther and deeper than any of us could ever fathom or dream of.
I stood at the end of the porch in front of the manor, looking out at it all.
I felt the cold night breeze that blew past me, stirring my hair behind me, and I clutched at the strap of my satchel bag. For seven years, I'd never truly been a part of that world…
Suddenly I leaned back on my heel and spun around to face Joseph, grinning brightly.
"We'll see each other again, won't we?"
He stood at the door, looking gently at me, and his smile widened, "Who can say?" was his simple reply, and he looked past me for a brief second at the same sunrise. "If I must say, though…we most certainly will."
There was so much that I wanted to say to him, but I settled on one more, "Thank you," for giving me strength. For helping me, and letting me know that I'm not wrong. Most importantly…for giving me everything that I would have regretted not having done otherwise.
He seemed to understand. He always did. Nothing got past Joseph, "You're welcome, Paige."
I looked down at the town. I would head there first. I looked back at Joseph again and smiled at him, "Well then, there's nothing much more to say. Goodbye for now Joseph."
He nodded to me, "Goodbye for now, Paige Kilrea."
With that, I walked down the porch steps quietly, and started down the path from…my home. My former home. A few seconds later, I heard the gentle click of the door closing into place, and another gentle click of the lock being turned.
I was about halfway down the main path when I stopped and turned to look one last time at the manor. It felt strange, how easy it was. I simply walked out the front door and that was it; I was gone…
In the frosted glass of the door, I saw the receding glow of the candlelight blow out. I turned again and continued on down the path. My steps were light, and I was grinning. I was really grinning in pure joy. There was an incredible nervousness and excitement that made my stomach flutter and nearly took my breath away with every step.
I had no idea what would happen to me now. There was no safety line that I could go back to and no anchor holding me down. No one could follow after me or tell me what to do or where to go. I was entirely on my own from here on out, only my own will would dictate what I did, and only the unknown was ahead of me.
I couldn't wait.
So at some point, I did have to stop and think about what I was going to do first. That point came around the town gates. My home…everyone that I loved there was taken care of, but not everyone else.
Inside a barn, I carefully climbed the ladder to the hay-filled loft. It was more difficult at night since not a lot of light managed to get through the small windows at the top of the structure. Still, it wasn't the first time I'd done this. I hoisted myself up into the hay and crawled away from the edge, closer to the wall. In the corner of the loft, a cat mewed, her copper eyes glowing as she looked at me suspiciously.
In the moonlight, I could see that she had a tortoiseshell coat. The fur was unevenly speckled with black and reddish-cream, and was slightly scruffy in the way that stray cats usually looked. The scruffiness and uneven coloring gave her an untamed beauty; something more rare and unexpected than the sleek, well-groomed prettiness of show pets. Then again, I'd always had a thing for mutts.
I smiled at her, "I just need a place to stay for the night," I assured her in a half whisper. Only the horses below were there to hear me.
She continued to watch me, but it was all right. I propped my wizard's bag against the wall and settled myself on a large pile of hay next to it, pulling up a mass of the stuff to use as a blanket. Straw made excellent insulation.
I laid there for a while, nearly buried under a pile of hay, just listening to the familiar horses below that occasionally snorted and stirred as they woke from a dream and drifted back to sleep again.
It didn't feel so familiar. It felt clumsy. I didn't know where to go after this, or what to do. I would leave town, I knew that…and after that, only the Powers could tell.
I expected those thoughts to hold me awake; to keep me staring out at the sky as I wondered and doubted and anticipated. In fact, I was surprised the next morning at how easily I fell asleep.
"If any of the boys saw me now, I would never hear the end of it…": The boys that you were introduced to in the last chapter; the ones that Paige befriended. Caspian is the head of the group.
R.A.E.: Hm, who could this mysterious wizard be?
"Ugh…as much as I hated to admit it…I was a girl": This sentence didn't sound quite as odd before I wrote it down…
"Inside a barn, I carefully climbed the ladder to the hay-filled loft.": A barn, eh? Who could this barn belong to? If you were paying attention during the last chapter, you should be able to figure it out (wink).
Kagerou453: And thus concludes the third chapter. I hope that you enjoyed it, despite its apparent corniness (bow). I really did try to make it as sentimental as I could without making it entirely too corny…did I do an okay job?
I can assure you that this is the last "prologue" chapter in the story. The next chapter is where the story really begins, with more action, new faces, and a whole lot of humor.
Please review and tell me what you thought! Too corny? Not corny enough (I doubt it)? Was it good/bad as a whole? Any mistakes you caught? Criticism is me friend so don't be afraid to give it to me! Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed, and please watch out for the next chapter!