"Melissa…" the girl finally said slowly, omitting her last name. Though it was clear to both her and Cynthia that they were not anywhere near home, she had a feeling that the last names of her and the queen couldn't be mere coincidence. Her own had been misspelled somewhere along the family tree, but never legally fixed. She wondered how on earth someone outside of her family could have a unique last name, pronounced the same as her own.
"I'm Cynthia," the other introduced herself. She wondered what exactly they were getting themselves into when they agreed to be servants of this Elizabeth lady. She cast a worried glance Melissa's way, one question imprinting itself on her mind. Would they ever get home—or…?
"Then Melissa and Cynthia, I shall take you to your sleeping quarters," the lady—apparently queen—announced. As she did, she turned back to the congregation with a beam upon her face. "I praythee all, please continue in thine merrymaking, whilst these two be dealt with."
As the five—Melissa, Cynthia, the Queen, and two guards—left the room, a collective sigh could be heard before the distinctive noise of muted chatter resumed. The girls looked at each other, each hoping two things. That they would be able to find a way home and that they wouldn't have to sleep with the rats. Wordlessly, the Queen dismissed the two guards at the party's entrance, who left with little resistance. After a few moments of walking, she stopped, causing the two confused girls who followed to stop as well.
"You two could not have come at a worse time, I'm afraid," the girl said her back to them. Melissa glanced at her friend, an equal look of confusion on her face. "Our mage has died, and we are in need of one to take his place…"
"Mage?" Melissa scoffed nervously. She didn't believe in magic. It simply wasn't real. Like the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, it was a figment of imagination, a wonderful tool often used to bring smiles to the faces of little children. Nothing more and nothing less. Elizabeth seemed to disagree.
"That is what I have said," Elizabeth said, turning around to face the two. The pure look of anguish, confusion, and hope on her face silenced the two teenagers, allowing her to continue. "In regards to our beloved Mage's death, the shield that has gone for so long without repairs has been shattered! He has left us indications to find the next individual to create a new boundary for our kingdom, yet we have been unable to find him."
"What does this have to do with us?" Cynthia asked. In her heart of hearts, she began to feel a tug to help these people, but the more logical side of her wanted her to believe that magic was only a childhood story. Yet, childhood stories were what she lived for…
"I do not believe your appearance was coincidence, and I wish to have the same faith as my husband, the King," Elizabeth explained cryptically. She took a deep breath and continued on. "All we know about the next Mage-in-line is that he was called The Writer, yet we cannot find one who is young and pure enough to be the next Mage who has started their studies of a learned hand."
"You took a survey of the whole kingdom?" Melissa asked skeptically. She wondered how many children had to take some test just to be told that they didn't possess the necessary magic. Way to ruin childhoods… she thought, slightly saddened by the thought of many children learning far too early that magic doesn't exist.
"Of course not, we have neither the time nor the resources for that," Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief, beginning to question her merit in asking these two for help. Yet if they had infiltrated the party as they had done…
"How old is a child to be considered too old?" Cynthia questioned curiously. Though the majority of her brain screamed it was nothing but folly, a small flower in her heart had begun to unfold, believing in the wonders of magic yet again. Elizabeth smiled at her.
"When a child reaches five years of age, their innocence begins to truly leave them, allowing itself to be corrupted by the outside world," Elizabeth explained to the girl just as it had been explained to her. Perhaps there was still a chance… "Yet only those of noble birthright have the ability to learn to read, much less write. My husband has searched our home, seeking out The Writer…"
"So since you can't find them, you're asking us to help?" Melissa asked, summarizing the problem, though she had no idea why. All she wanted to do was go back home.
"Precisely," Elizabeth said, thankful that both of them seemed to have a clear grasp on the subject. She turned her back and resumed walking to where the girls would stay. The two quickly caught up.
"I am aware you are not from Trinit, the kingdom from which we rule," Elizabeth disclosed as she made her way through a side entrance and into a small dingy station. She walked through the room, unaffected by its apparent discoloration, and made her way through an exit off to the side, revealing the outdoors. "Yet I am sure you will find a home here within time's constraints."
If were possible, Melissa and Cynthia would have stopped to admire the lush green hills that rolled before them. Paused to enjoy the crisp evening air that held but a hint of rains just passed. Stared in amazement at the crystal clear sky, lightly decorated with stars and over brushed with the lightest shade of lilac. If they had done these things, however, they would have also noticed the acrid black smoke in the distance. Heard the echoing roars that pierced the hearts of the bravest men. Seen the fires that licked the bottom of the valley. Though the two could not afford to notice these things, Elizabeth did, and it weighed heavily on her heart.
"You are to arrive at my chambers the first thing every morning for your duties," Elizabeth commanded, simply attempting to distract herself from the painful reminders of the sufferings of her new subjects. "You may ask directions from those around you, yet I expect you in my quarters before sunup. And these are your quarters," she finished, finally arriving at a small cottage overlooking a portion of land that seemed to reflect the sun's color at high noon, though the sun was rapidly disappearing over the horizon.
"Emily?" Elizabeth whispered after she'd knocked in a brief pattern. As soon as the word was spoken, the door opened to reveal a boy of around seven years. His skin was tanned slightly from the sun, evidence of having spent a lot of time in its company. Smudged dirt on his face helped the evidence of being outside. His hair was disheveled and black, yet had some dust upon the top. His eyes were a fair brown. The queen smiled, leaving Melissa and Cynthia curious. Was this boy really named 'Emily'? That was harsh…
"Hello Earl," the queen greeted the boy, who smiled shyly and bowed his head.
"'Ello, Highness," he returned. Cynthia could make out that the boy had a tooth missing, resulting in a slight lisp with his "S"s. She thought it was adorable. Melissa wondered why on earth he was so filthy. She had an urge to muss his hair, if only to remove some of the dust. He looked up, a new look of hope in his youthful eyes. "'Ave you seen 'er to-day?"
"Not thus far, Earl," Elizabeth smiled sadly. A small piece of the hope that had been in Earl's eyes vanished from sight, and he simply turned in the house, leaving the girls waiting on the front step. Melissa wondered if this place was just full of problems while Cynthia wondered what had caused the boy to be so upset.
"'Ello, Beth—oh, I mean Yer Highness," a woman's warm voice came from within the house. Within moments, the owner of the voice came to the door, a smile on her face. She looked as if she were in her early thirties, a healthy woman with long dark hair that had been pulled up out of her face by a strip of cloth, tied at the base of the neck. Her eyes were a dark chocolate brown, and her face a touch lighter than Earl's. She beamed at Elizabeth, and the queen smiled in return. "Should you no' be wi' yer 'usband a' this 'our?" she asked, winking playfully. Elizabeth laughed lightheartedly.
"He shall be quite pleased upon my return, I assure thee, Emily," Elizabeth giggled. She motioned to Melissa and Cynthia, who had been unseen until now. "I must ask thee a favor. These two hath arrived in an unceremonious manner upon our wedding-feast, and they hath become my maidservants. I believe they shall prove to be a great asset in our search."
"You wan' 'em to stay 'ere?" Emily asked, the gentle smile never leaving her face. Cynthia instantly liked her. Melissa kept her eyes open for anything that could help them in getting out of there.
"If at all possible," Elizabeth smiled. After a few seconds, Emily turned her attention to the two girls, as if truly noticing them for the first time. She seized the two girls up head to toe. Though they didn't appear bad, they were definitely strange. Along with their attire and color of hair, they had some… auras… about them. It reminded her of…
"Sure…" Emily smiled, albeit weaker than before, as if some sorrowful memory was tugging at her consciousness. Her expression did not escape Melissa's notice, though it seemed to pass with everyone else.
"Oh, how I thank thee!" Elizabeth exclaimed, taking the woman's hands within her own. She smiled and stared into the face of her friend. "If there is any good within this, then it is that I have found such a friend as thee…" Emily paused for a moment, a genuine smile on her face and a single tear sliding down her face.
"Thank you, Beth," Emily smiled before letting out a chuckle. She withdrew her hands and wiped the tear from her eye before assuming the demeanor of a mother. "Now, it's time for ya to be off, then, innit? Yer 'usband's no' gonna wait forever."
"Thank thee, Emily," the queen smiled before slipping something into the woman's hand and whispering something in her ear. After that was done, the queen quickly made her way back into the castle, which—now that it could be seen—was a stone structure of lofty proportions. Though the details in décor could not be discerned from the stone slabs in the rapid approaching darkness. Before the girls could try, however, they were quickly whisked into the humble cottage structure.
"Righ', I'm Emily, and this i' my younin', Earl," Emily introduced herself as she bustled about a small kitchen, seeming to clean up from a meal. Earl sat by a table near a window. The window overlooked the rolling harvest of grain that was also becoming—in a sense—invisible. He turned and nodded to the two girls before facing out of the window once more.
"I'm Cynthia, and this is my best friend Melissa," Cynthia introduced, having already decided that this woman was a good person and worthy of trust. Melissa mentally face palmed at her friend's ability to trust that every person could be capable of good, even in a situation such as this. Melissa continued to look around, seizing up every item. And every person.
"Yer no' a mute, are you?" Emily asked suddenly, a new sliver of sadness entering her voice. At the mention of 'mute', Earl's head whipped around, and his light brown eyes glistened the threat of tears, which he quickly wiped away. The motion had been noticed by both guests, but they decided not to comment on it.
"No, I'm not," Melissa answered, wondering a million things at once. Earl looked as though he had received relief of some sort along with a renewed sense of burden. With slumped shoulders, he returned his attention to the outside world. "So, where are we? And what was that thing the queen gave you?" Melissa drilled now that she'd reaffirmed she could talk.
"Yer in Trinit, the middle par' o' Urend," Emily explained briefly as she continued to clean up. She shook her head, almost in disbelief. "'Ain't you ever heard of it?"
"No, we were holding a piece of paper when we got put here," Cynthia said, making Melissa tense up. They looked at each other. The paper! The King still had it! That paper was their best shot of getting back home anytime soon! It was then that Melissa literally face palmed. They should have remembered the paper, at least!
"You mean this?" Emily asked, holding up a piece of paper. Cynthia and Melissa stared, stunned at the fact that this woman had the paper. They confirmed it was the one that had brought them there by seeing the writing and odd spacing. To Cynthia, it was written in blue and skipped every other word. Likewise with Melissa, only in red. Elizabeth must have gotten it back from her husband and handed it to Emily for some reason.
"That's it!" Melissa yelped excitedly, yet before she could begin to walk towards the woman to get it, a voice halted her in her tracks.
"Sophie!" Earl shouted, bolting straight for the paper. He quickly snatched it from his mother, who gave it up without a fight. His eyes scanned the paper, devouring any information it had to offer, a smile on his face. After a few moments, the look of hope he'd just received seem to ebb away from his eyes. He glanced up at his mother. "They got Sophie… Up in Yeager's Split…"
The kitchen was silent for a few moments. A growing sense of dread filled the air, and Earl turned back to the paper, scanning it for some hope. Melissa and Cynthia looked at each other.
"What do you think?" Cynthia asked, looking to her friend for what they should do next. Melissa was at a loss for a few seconds. They had been dropped in this place—a place called Trinit, apparently—with nothing except the clothes on their backs and a strange piece of paper, been destined to servitude and helping some queen and her fantasies of magic, and now plopped in the middle of a family crisis. To be honest, Melissa wasn't quite sure what they could do, but she had one hope.
"Maybe the person who wrote that note could help us get home," she threw out there, hoping that the person responsible was nearby, though doubting it highly. Yet the instant that she'd said it, Cynthia had already processed it and was thinking about it.
"Makes sense… And if they can't, we can always try some other way to get home," Cynthia pointed out. Before Melissa could even begin to tell her how flawed that logic was, the girl had already set her mind to her new course of action.
"Who wrote that note?" she asked the family, who had been in their silent dread until addressed. Earl's eyes didn't leave the paper.
"Sophie…" he answered slowly. "Sophie wrote it…"
Melissa and Cynthia looked at each other. Though it was certainly nice to know the name of the person who'd written the note, it wasn't very helpful in their quest to get back home. Cynthia cleared her throat, but when that yielded no more information, Melissa fell back on her blunt approach.
"Who's Sophie?" she asked. Emily set down her cleaning rag and let her hair down. Her chocolate-brown eyes were set as if they were steel. She took a seat near her son and motioned for the girls to take the seats across from them. Without a word, the two complied, each wondering if they were going to ever find their way home.