If I could eat the same breakfast every morning for the rest of my seemingly short life, God may have surely blessed me indeed. Though my stomach whined when I eventually pulled away from the bench, I didn't worry so much—the length of this castle already proved I was in store for a work-out.
The idea of uniforms is trivial in the gaze of a blind person, but Holland insisted nonetheless as she dragged me to the servant's seamstress. They weren't new by any means, but I hadn't expected anything generous and allowed Holland to help me into the dress. It was far less scratchy than my Monday Church best—the material waved soft along my skin as I paced a quick circle to feel its movements.
"I like it," I told the room. Holland snorted.
"So easy to please," she laughed to the seamstress, who beckoned us goodbye and returned to her own work. It seemed everyone in the castle was alive to buzz, yet all kept silent so as not to waken the wolves.
Not being the sole human brought comfort; Holland couldn't protect me from any foolish mistakes, but she could sympathize and that left the oddest impression. After all, I never had a sister before. A mother. Anyone of the likes. I grew beneath the pressures of a disease that plagued my father's sanity and a birth that stole him his wife.
But those sparse memories quickly faded at the lump building in my throat. Remembering him did little good, whether it was kind or bad. I already went through this.
"I'm not going to make it, am I?" I thought aloud some time later. I paused from scrubbing at the floor, comparing the textures to Holland's already cleaned space to ensure I was properly washing.
Beside me, Holland rinsed out her rag and snorted. "You're the first blind one, sweetheart, but we've had much worse than this. Amputees. Deafs. You'll manage, or the King wouldn't bother."
I smiled, not sure if the motherly woman could even see it, but offering it just in case. Washing the floors challenged the muscles in my arms, but it was something I could manage, so long as a supervisor was present. Holland barely chided me for any mistakes. I moved from corner to corner, polishing off each stone, and when some uncountable hours crossed by and we found ourselves dusting at the suits of armour in a less busy hall, I heard another familiar voice.
"So it lives," Edlin said.
I swept my rag along the torso of the suit in front of me. And I made sure not to answer, wondering if he'd see it as mouthing back if I did. Holland, however, steered around me. I couldn't see her face, but I couldn't sense any approval coursing from her mouth.
"Go on now. We're finishing up our chores. Busy, busy!" she scolded.
Edlin spat, and my stomach tightened, hoping it wasn't on her. "Shut up. I'm admiring the King's latest present."
I froze then. I wondered if now was my turn to speak, to challenge the enticing anger of the wolf beside me, but just as quickly considered the bruises, the threats to Holland that could come from taking his bait. He wanted to eat me—he missed out on a snack and he was angry. It was just a few childish jabs.
Before Holland even responded, I returned to my dusting.
"Raine's doing just fine! She's… very thorough."
Again, I found myself smiling over Holland. Edlin, whose patience seemed to grow smaller at her praise, shouldered Holland into one of the neighbouring suits before grasping down on my chin. Wedged between his thumb and hand, he coaxed my head to turn to him, and through sole instinct, I closed my eyes.
"Let me see them," he murmured angrily. I didn't understand—I grasped what he meant, but this odd obsession with my eyes only added to the burrow of questions piling up. So they looked like the moon? The moon was always in the sky. Perhaps unfilled, or crescent, but it rarely failed to make an appearance, save the New Moon.
"I liked Vencel much more," I offered instead.
"Do you see him here? He's gonna be gone for a nice long time."
"Maybe you should follow in his footsteps."
His fist bit at my cheek, the way a lion might scratch at its prey—I soared from my feet, only to smack my side into the wall. My skull heaved upon impact and my body lost to gravity, but the throb along the side of my face called for more worry than anything else. I promised to hold my tongue, and fought back anyway. I couldn't cry, not with Holland screeching, and Edlin snarling, and before this could escalate—the idea of him hitting Holland piqued my concern—I rolled onto my stomach.
"I'm sorry!" I shouted above the two of them. I brought my knees together, keeping my face level with the floor as I hoped to mimic a bow. "I'm sorry. I'm… sorry. That was—that was disobedient and rude. I'm sorry… sir."
My range of manners weren't impressive in the slightest, but I hoped this provided some adequate apology. Holland fell silent, and when the wolf moved—his footsteps weighing against the stone like sacks of flour dropped on the shipping wagon—he used the front of his boot to tap against my cheek.
I lifted my head and opened my eyes.
"You're not gonna last long," he murmured, his tone dropping as he crouched in front of me. "Whatever mercy saved your skin last night won't follow you through this castle. And when the King orders your death—and he will, little girl—I'm going to enjoy chomping down on those pretty eyes."
I didn't answer his speech. When he gave my throbbing bruise a few gentle smacks, I gripped on to the floor to keep from flinching. Edlin left the hall with his thundering footsteps echoing to whatever room he ventured off to, and Holland wasted no time helping me back to my feet.
"I know," I mumbled. "I'm sorry. That was dumb."
"Outright senseless." Holland's voice shook worse than her hands that brushed along my uniform. None of this really worried me, though—the bruises would heal. They still couldn't quite compare to the force of a whip, and maybe that was from Edlin's choice to hold back, but I would recover. What I couldn't stop fretting over was the growing list of question waiting on my tongue, and all at once, they seemed to come out.
"Why are they so obsessed with my eyes? That I don't get. They're just white. I don't know what that is. I know it's the colour of the moon, and my mother's wedding dress, and egg shells, and Lafferty's favourite tie apparently has white stripes—" I cut myself off, trying to picture the objects I never saw, but my fingers rubbed together, already placing the textures.
Holland swallowed. Her hands rubbed along my forearms, as though whatever news she carried required comfort. "They're just Moon Eyes, hun. They look like the eyes of the Lunar descendants."
I nodded. Then frowned. "What's a Lunar descendent?"
There wasn't any place to make bets, but I was certain Holland rolled her eyes at my ignorance.
"The Lunar descendents—the Moon Warriors? They gave the wolves their powers and then died out a few centuries ago? I'm guessing that's what they mean. They sort of look like the Queen's—but yours are richer. She wears contacts now."
I didn't know what contacts were, but I kept that to myself. The Moon Warriors I did know about. At least briefly. The fortune teller back home told us legends and stories, usually focused on the wolves and why they despised us humans so much—but the Moon Warriors were the oldest bit of history we knew. They descended from the heavens during a midnight storm, when the land was divided in war and plagues. They were lost, but King Theron's great grandfather, King Elsinhoome, found them struggling in No Man's Land, believing they were spies. He fell in love with one of the leader's daughters, married her, and in return, the people of his lands were blessed with the werewolf bite. Savages tore through their once human bodies and transformed them into the elitist supremes that rule these lands now.
Needless to say, all the human monarchies were wiped out. It's only a legend—a legend that never fixed the questions about the Dark Ones or Thirsties, but Moon Warriors were at least proven to exist. I think.
"I've never heard anyone call them Lunar descendants before," I explained. Holland gently rubbed my bruise while I resisted the urge to flinch.
"You have plenty to still learn, sweetheart."
I waited a few seconds, allowing her to ramble about the sort of potion she hoped the witch had in stock to fix up my face, before I served my next question.
"They don't think I'm one of them, do they?" I asked. I was relieved at once by Holland's laugh.
"No! It's just a happy little trick! You were blessed with… a gift!"
Never in my life had anyone turned my blindness into some sort of prize. I tried to wonder what this meant—why the King was so offended when he first looked at me, and why the wolves either chuckled or spat furiously upon noticing my eyes. Was it because these eyes belonged to a peasant, rather than some deserving noble? But Holland endured enough of my questions, and with a gentle reminder that the King wanted his servants in pristine condition, I was shuffled off towards the Witch's Tower.