(Author's note: I really hope you like this story. This is mostly just a first draft and I would absolutely love any constructive criticism you have to offer, because I had a lot of fun writing this and I want to make it as good as it can get. Also, if you read this and happen to like it, I also have two short stories called Straight and Too Narrow and This is Your Time. They are actually set in the real world and I would also love feedback on those. Thank you so much!)
The first dream I had woke me in the middle of the night with a start and chills lingering in my back. I didn't recognize the faces I saw, my eyes didn't. But my insides twisted at the sight of them, like my heart knew something my head didn't.
I opened my eyes and looked around – the curtain still hung around me and my window still showed me the stars outside. Hesitant, quietly, I pulled the curtain back, crept across the room, and peeked through the adjoining door to see Dan still sprawled out on his bed, sound asleep. I thought about waking him, but then I decided there was little point in that.
So I went back to sleep, and in the morning, the visions were buried deeply in the back of my mind.
I never knew my parents. I suppose they died in the mass sickness that everyone talks about, the one that killed dozens of servants. I suppose the only way I survived was that I came to live here, away from my dying parents and brother. But I don't remember any of them at all, no one talks about them, and I don't have the courage to ask, so all I had to know is what I assumed for myself.
After that, a woman named Sonya began looking after me and another boy named Danyel. She gave us lessons and talked to us, the best of a mother, the best of a teacher, and the best of a sister all rolled into one woman, and Dan and I loved her.
When King Reyes told us that He had decided we were to be couriers, we didn't know what to do with ourselves – after all, being a courier meant that He trusted us a great deal, and King Reyes' trust was not something to take lightly, especially then.
At that time, King Reyes claimed Emerald Bay as His city, its citizens His people, its harbor His harbor. So, as His couriers, we delivered His messages to His citizens. But we talked to no one, as His orders always spelled out clearly, just gave messages and left. Dan and Sonya were the only people I really knew in the castle, even though we traveled with the other couriers all the time. Dan knew them all, of course, but that was Dan.
So went my life.
But then came the dreams, infrequent and blurry at first, the building up so that I saw them every night. They showed me clipped images of people and faces, screaming and wailing, and the sight of King Reyes stripped down to His underclothes, weeping. I didn't know what they meant; I only knew how much they frightened me. And for some reason, I didn't tell Dan or Sonya about them. They, I told myself almost every day, don't need to be bothered with ghostly images of sorrow.
"Taly, where's Danyel?" Sonya asked me one day.
"Trying to sneak some bread from the kitchen," I said. Technically, Dan had sworn me to secrecy against Sonya, but I didn't really feel the need to honor any promise I made to Dan.
Sonya rolled her eyes and groaned. "That boy…"
A few minutes later, she reappeared in the doorway with Dan's ear pinched tightly between her fingers. She dropped him on the floor of my room and gave him a well-placed stern glare before he scuttled back to my bed like a reprimanded dog, where I was watching the whole thing with some amusement. "You told her where I was, didn't you?" he asked me.
"Why?? Aren't you hungry?"
"Super is in an hour."
"But it's way funner to-"
"Quiet," Sonya demanded. "I didn't come in here to listen to you two bicker. I could stand out in the corridor and hear you two bicker!"
"You didn't?" Dan asked.
"You could?" I asked.
"No. And yes." But she smiled anyway. "King Reyes requested the presence of His youngest couriers in His chamber immediately!" We just sat unmoving on the bed, waiting for her to say, Just kidding! "Now."
That was very unusual. Usually, King Reyes sent one of His personal messengers to Sonya to tell her what to tell us so that we would know what to say to the citizens of Emerald Bay. I couldn't remember the last time a courier had been called directly into His chambers; maybe one never had. I certainly hadn't. Not even Dan said anything as Sonya led us through the castle's labyrinth of corridors to the door of King Reyes' throne room. We both looked at her, waiting for her to lead us in.
"I'm not going in," she told us, as if that fact were already painfully obvious.
Dan and I stared at each other nervously, and finally, he pushed the door open and we walked inside.
The room stretched out forever in front of us with King Reyes nothing more than a little mouse against the back wall. I glanced anxiously at the guards on either side of us, half expecting them to pounce on me and kill me for daring to come at all.
"No need to be tentative." King Reyes' voice shuddered down the room to reach us, and it made me shiver violently. Dan looked at me like he had the same reaction. Nevertheless, our confidence rose a bit, and we soon found ourselves right in front of Him, silent and awed by His presence.
"I realize that this is rather unusual," He began, "but I wanted to make sure that nothing was lost in the proverbial translation."
"What translation?" Dan asked. I kicked him.
"I want you to go to Emerald Bay at dawn tomorrow. Stay at the Gleaming Eye tavern and, the next day, go into the Square to deliver a message to my citizens." It sounded like what we always did.
"You mean just the two of us?" Dan asked.
"Just the two of you."
"Tell them," King Reyes continued, "that I have a son."
Now Dan coughed. "Ah, with all the due respect I have… You've had a son for a really long time. Isn't that sort of, You know, old news?"
"Dan…" I warned.
"None of my citizens know that I have a son."
"They don't?" I couldn't help but burst out. When I realized that I had actually said that out loud, I hunched over and took a step back. Dab put his hand on my back, as if urging me not to be such a wimp.
"They do not. It is time that they learn."
"Can I ask you something?" Dan asked hesitantly.
"May I ask you something?"
"Your son's going to be in danger, isn't he? Won't people realize that if they get rid of him, all they have to do is get rid of you to get to Your throne?"
That's more work than they'd have to do now, I thought.
King Reyes sighed forlornly. "You are dismissed. Remember to do exactly as I told you and make sure not to speak to anyone except the girl at the tavern."
Mystified at why King Reyes would send only two teenage couriers to deliver such an important message, we left to take care of things for the morning's departure.
As the youngest couriers, we didn't go to Emerald Bay as often as the other couriers, and when we did, we always went with someone else. We had no idea what to make of King Reyes' message. Unless it was meant to teach us some kind of lesson, or meant to simply make fun of us, it was a great honor.
"Can't find my left sandal!" Dan yelled through the door that adjoined our two rooms. For the most part, we kept it open.
"Maybe if you had any sort of organizational system in there…"
His head poked through the doorway. "And where would be the fun in that?"
"Then don't complain."
"Do you have the scroll?"
Instead of having to write out every single proclamation He wanted us to spread, King Reyes had simply given us one extra scroll which we used as a prop during our speeches. A prop scroll made life easier for everyone. "I certainly wouldn't trust you with it."
"That's why we have you: so I don't have to do any work!"
"Good thing it's not just you as a courier. Nothing would get done."
"Well, if you would quit talking, I might be able to find my sandal."
Dan really got on my nerves sometimes – most of the time. To be honest, I think he enjoyed it. "Fine."
Sonya came into my room and surveyed my progress as far as packing went. "You'll be ready by tonight?"
"It is night!" Dan pointed out loudly. We ignored him.
"Hopefully. If Dan can ever find his other sandal."
Right then, he pranced through the door bearing his left sandal cautiously between two fingers. "I found it, you'll be happy to know. But there's something on the bottom and I don't really know what it is, so I'll be right back." And he marched out of my room very self-righteously.
"You two won't eat each other while you're gone?"
"He wouldn't mine being a cannibal."
Sonya laughed. "Are you nervous?"
"I just can't quite figure out why King Reyes would send just the two of us all alone. Aren't we a little young to be reading messages all by ourselves? No one will take us seriously!"
"Don't let anyone scorn you because you're young; show them how young people should behave."
"Then maybe Dan'd better stay here."
She laughed again. "He can be a man when he chooses."
"He ought to learn how to make better choice, then."
"Who ought to?" Dan asked, re-entering with a sandal tucked into his belt.
"No one," Sonya said at the same time as I said, "You."
"Nice to know I'm so popular. When people talk about you, it means they're in love with you. Of course, I shouldn't be so surprised. How could anyone not love me?"
We left at dawn the next morning, shivering in the early morning cold and still mystified as to King Reyes' choice of couriers. Why send something so important with two people cursed with a clown who couldn't take anything seriously?
I would have been happy to ponder that subject for the entire time it took to get to Emerald Bay – most of the day – but Dan didn't have such a long attention span.
"What do you want to do?" he asked me.
"Let's see who can be silent the longest, okay?"
He nodded, stayed silent for a few seconds, then said, "Whoops, looks like you won."
I let my head fall hopelessly into the mane of my horse. "Is this really so hard for you?"
"I'm normal, you're weird."
"You have absolutely nothing to base that on!"
"Neither do you."
At the time, Emerald Bay was known as King Reyes' city, no one else's, not even just a city. We finally made it to the edge of the town and maneuvered our horses carefully through the thick crowds down the main road to the door of the Gleaming Eye tavern. Dan jumped down, and I followed. People stared at us, but we were used to that.
"I'll go in and get a room, and you put the horses up in the stable," he said.
He handed me the ropes, bounded up the stairs, and disappeared through the doors. I yanked on the ropes and eventually, the horses began plodding forward, around the side of the building to the stables in the back. A shriveled old man staggered out from behind a wall of hay bales and regarded me suspiciously. "Where are your parents, girl?"
"Aren't you too young to travel alone?"
Sonya said not to let anyone scorn my age, but to show them how a young person should act. I took a deep breath. "No."
"You look it."
"I'm not!" I snapped before I could think to stop myself. "King Reyes Himself sent me here, and if you have a problem with that, you can take it up with Him!"
"King Reyes is just a man and has no more control over me than I do over the owner of this building."
That made me angry. There was nothing I could stand less than someone tainting King Reyes' name, and was about to put him in his proper place (in a pile of horse manure) when Dan's voice interrupted, "If a man has no control over you, then why should you have any control over her?"
"Because she's a –"
"A woman? Just how old are you anyway? And if you'll excuse us, we've got to get some rest. I believe you know what to do with our horses." He grabbed my elbow. "Let's get out of here, Taly."
"Name the baby after me!" the old man called out after us. I almost turned back and knocked him into the manure after all, but Dan didn't seem like he would be willing to stand by and watch that.
"As I recall," Dan said as we squeezed up the staircase into our room, "we're not supposed to strike up a conversation with anyone."
"That was hardly a conversation."
"It was more than just, 'Hey, can you feed my horses?' wasn't it?"
"Since when did you become such a law-abider?"
"Since you left the position open a couple minutes ago."
He opened the door to a room and we slipped inside. I collapsed onto the bed face-first. "Well," Dan said, "I was going to suggest we play another game, but I'm guessing you're not really in the mood."