A.N Oh hello. How long has it been? Anyway, here is the new chapter! Cheers!
It was a pale morning and the sun hid behind a mask of grey clouds.
While they slept the first hoarfrost had fallen, crystallizing on the cold surface of marble rock where they made camp, and officially marking summers end.
Mauve jolted awake from an aching headache thumping at the base of her skull, which she soon realized was a hangover.
It was already light out meaning she had overslept, but her haste quickly subsided when she noticed the others were still fast asleep. Even Landon who was supposed to be on watch was slumped over and snoring loudly, a flagon of emptied brandy still in his hand. The rest breathed heavily still lost in alcohol saturated dreams. Thomas, who was usually a stickler for time management, lay longways on the ground, one arm resting protectively over his newly obtained loot.
Mauve smirked and shrugged her cloak on, she didn't have the luxury to sleep in, she had chores to do.
Brutus, who had been snuggled at her feet throughout the night, sprung up with her and eagerly helped to gather kindling for fire, both of them occasionally pausing to watch the sun peak slowly from behind the clouds. She rewarded the dog with a bone, and placed the rest into the bubbling water to marinate with blood sausage she had found in one of the many crates the slaver had unwillingly given over.
"I believe it will be an early winter," a soft, accented voice said from behind her.
She looked over to see Aine shifting into a seated position, her long silver hair falling from its loose braid and around her hollow face. Even pale and malnourished she still managed to look lovely in the gray sunrise, still half asleep.
"A halo sits around the sun, a forewarning for an early snowfall," Aine explained, she smiled weakly at Mauve.
"Just as long as we are back behind the wall before then," Mauve said.
Horsesettle already had terrible winters due to its location cradled below the shadows of the castle. Peasants bowel the locals called it, and it filled up every winter from cold winds and heavy snowfall, and she could only imagine what winters would be like out in the open.
"I can't say I packed for snow."
But the girl didn't seem to be listening anymore, her lavender eyes were fixated on the slowly boiling stew.
"Are you hungry?"
"Yes, please," Aine replied quickly, and Mauve unwrapped a fresh loaf of bread they had taken from the slaver yesterday and cut her a slice, which Aine accepted eagerly.
"I'm glad to see you eating, you hardly ate a bite yesterday," Mauve said, watching the girl practically inhale the bread. Her hands trembled terribly on top of blackened wrists; Mauve could see the imprint from heavy chains still bruised to the bone. She forced herself not to stare.
Aine took a moment to chew. "I apologize if it were rude, you were all so kind- I was just too much in shock. Everything felt unreal."
Mauve shook her head. "It wasn't rude, I was just worried is all. I can't imagine the slaver fed you very well," Mauve said, assuring the girl finished the slice then offering her another.
The girl didn't react, looking conflicted.
"Trust me, I know it takes a while, but eat," Mauve said earnestly.
Aine took the other gratefully.
"I can't remember the last time someone was concerned for my well being," she admitted, and bite desperately into the next slice.
"How long has it been since you've been home?" Mauve asked after the girl had swallowed.
Aine looked browbeaten, a weariness aging her tremendously.
"My brother and I were taken when I was ten and he was four. If I've counted right, I'll be fifteen come the snow."
Aine took several more large bites with a ravenous desperation Mauve could relate with all too well, though she was getting better, Thomas hadn't had to remind her to eat in quite a few meals now.
"I'm sorry," Mauve sympathized. "It must have been terrible for you."
"Couldn't be much worse than your own servitude I'd imagine," Aine answered, her mouth still full. "Slave or servant we are nothing more than property. Neither is free. "
"I am paid for my labor," Mauve reminded gently, and perhaps a little insensitively, but she hadn't liked the idea of being compared to a slave.
Aine didn't seem to notice.
"Enough to make a living? or even fairly for the amount of work you do? Can you walk out and leave at any time?" she asked.
"Well no..." Mauve murmured.
"Then you are not free," she said plainly.
Mauve thought back to her time at the castle, it was starting to feel ages since she had peeled bushels of potatoes in the dark kitchens, or heard the shrill bark of Madam Abella, or thankfully, felt the terrible dig of Brunhilda the chamber maids heel into her toe. For a moment she was filled with dread. She had almost forgotten she had to go back, and it scared her that she couldn't imagine doing it.
"I never thought I'd see it again; home" Aine continued in her silence, "I thought I would forever be stuck behind those horrible city gates never to look upon the forests or mountains again, or feel the river winds in my hair. I don't know how you Imperials do it, locked away behind your walls and castles, always serving your Lords with your coin and your sweat."
The bitterness in her tongue stung Mauve and she felt as if she had done something terrible to the girl simply for being Imperial.
"I'm sorry," Aine realized, "I don't think I really knew how angry I truly was until now…"
"Now you have time to be," Mauve said understandingly. She seemed to be going through a similar experience. The longer she was away the more bitter she seemed to become about going back.
"Do you have any family?" Aine asked, rising and taking a seat across from her. "Don't they miss you while you're off on this adventure?"
Mauve thought of her little brother, of her father somewhere far away across the seas and shook her head.
"I'm sorry," Aine replied. "I never knew my mother. Don't misunderstand, my father was a wonderful man, he loved us very much-" she paused as if having a change of thought. "But I suppose it was never enough to fill that inexplicable emptiness."
Mauve stirred the soup watching the bones rise up slightly from the momentum of her spoon, once again she could relate all too well.
"I understand. My father left when I was very little…he took my brother, but he left my mother and I behind."
Mauve didn't need to turn to feel her sympathetic gaze.
"Why?" Aine asked.
Mauve bore her eyes into the stew, she couldn't think of anyone bold enough to ask her such a question, but somehow she wasn't upset by it.
"My mother never told me, but I always suspected she knew. She kept many secrets from me," Mauve said, and felt a rush of emotion. She took a breath and continued. "Before he left, my father, he used to tell me she would disappear for months on end. After they married he did his best to keep her by his side, but adventure seemed to call to her. We never knew where she went, but I remember those nights alone, aching for her. Only after Gareth was born did she finally settle down. I thought we could finally be a family… but he never came back- she always did."
"Where do you suppose she went?" Aine asked.
Mauve shrugged. "I don't know, she never told me, like I said, adventure seemed to call to her."
Aine smiled. "Just as it calls to you," she observed.
Mauve thought about this and caught herself grinning. The statement made her feel closer to her mother somewhere above in the heavens.
Aine exhaled softly before her eyes fell to Beeta, still curled up beneath his blankets among the other knights; a stone surrounded by mountains.
"We only share half-blood you know," she said. "My father married after I was born, she wasn't one of us, but she was beautiful, a convenient mask to hide her real darkness. My father never saw it, she wouldn't let him see, but when we were alone she would beat us or tell us terrible things that would keep us petrified in our beds, jumping at shadows throughout the night. Sometimes I would catch her shaking Beeta so hard I thought his eyes would pop from his little skull. She slapped me when I tried to rescue him from her, threatening to smother him in his sleep if I ever told my father. I was never brave enough to do it anyway, so I would dream of running away. I would stare out my great terrace window and desperately think of ways I could take my infant brother far from our home somewhere across the mountains safe with the dainty Imperial lords and ladies. In my heart I knew there could be no one crueler than her. Of course I was a fool to believe this. In the end, I would get my wish, but I was wrong about cruelty. Cruelty exists everywhere, in mothers and fathers, in children, in men and women alike, and it doesn't matter if you're behind the wall or in front of it. I never thought I would wish for fathers home, until I found myself locked in another with a whole different face of evil. Now I would give anything to see my father, and this time when I face her again, I will be brave enough."
Mauve felt her heart stir and instinctively reached across to her, fitting her hand over hers. They looked at each other and both smiled softly.
There was something about Aine that made Mauve feel peaceful, and she was almost sad she would be losing her soon. She hadn't known a girl to share a kind word with her in years, and had an unshakable feeling that they could grow to be good friends.
Aine secured their hold for merely a second, before a sudden bark startled them and they broke apart.
"If you have time to rest, I take it breakfast is ready?"
Christopher had woken at some point and was staring at them expectantly.
Mauve jumped up and hurried to check the stew.
"I'll fetch you a bowel," she said quickly, but Aine was already handing her one. Mauve ladled the soup in and offered it to the impatient Lord.
"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, my lord," she said, even though she knew it couldn't have been longer than a few minutes.
"You're lucky you're a cook or I'd break those little fingers," Christopher growled before barking at Dean to wake up and fetch him fresh spring water.
At this point the other Knights were starting to rise, and Sir Ferdinand was yelling something incoherent. Mauve could see the other knights snapping at him to quiet down, and grumbling under their breaths while Cecil, barely awake himself, did his best to calm him. The usual overwhelming pity overcame her as she watched The Captains panicked and confused gaze blink wildly around the camp. Every day he seemed worse than the last. She had every intention to intervene, but was entirely surprised to see Aine already making her way towards him.
Cecil came towards her but she shook her head, laying a delicate hand on the panicked Captain.
He seemed to be thrown off by the soft touch as his aggressive antics stopped suddenly and he looked into the girls sympathetic gaze.
"It's alright," she said, her voice motherly, perhaps learned from all the years caring for Beeta.
"Come sit by the fire with me, we can share a bowel of stew."
Mauve didn't think Sir Ferdinand understood anything she said, but her kind tone succeeded in calming him and he quietly allowed her to lead him to the fireside.
"Mauve," she said gently.
Mauve, who like the other knights had been staring, hurried to make him a bowel, and afterwards helped Aine lower him into a seated position.
"Come," she said taking the bowel from Mauve. "Let's have something to eat."
"What ails him?" she asked Mauve not long after. They were packing their horses, preparing for the next leg of their journey.
They both looked over to him. Sir Ferdinand sat slumped on his horse as Cecil secured their steeds, his expression glazed and detached like no thoughts were coming in or out. He wasn't yelling anymore, he seemed like he didn't even breathe, a ghost in a shell- like he always was after they gave him his medicine.
Mauve frowned, dodging Billy's bite adeptly as she answered her.
"He was kicked in the head by a horse a few years back, he hasn't been the same since. They say he's gone crazy from all the swelling in the brain. Its quite sad when you think of it as he had a great love for horses. Before the accident he spent more time in the stables than he did anywhere else. They say he was the greatest horse trainer in the land."
A dubious look crossed Aine's face.
"What is it?" Mauve inquired.
"It just seems odd…" she said thoughtfully, "You say he was the greatest horse trainer in the land? Yet he sustained an injury that even children learn to avoid. Its curious, don't you think? Horsemaster with skill unparalleled to any other, kicked in the head by the creatures he devoted his life to? " she looked at Mauve, and Mauve looked back.
In fact Mauve did think it was curious, she had thought it curious for a long time and the fact that Aine thought the same only made her more suspicious.
"So what are you implying?" Mauve wondered, "Something else hurt Sir Ferdinand…?"
Aine turned back to her. "Or someone."
"But who would gain from hurting the Captain?"
"You tell me?" Aine said.
Mauve could only think of two wicked people here, and that was Christopher and Dean…but she couldn't think of a substantial reason they'd want to hurt the Captain, he had been their mentor and even Christopher couldn't have as black a heart as that.
"If there is one thing I have learned in all my years as a slave," Aine interrupted her thoughts, "No one can be trusted…not even those you hold closest."
They exchanged glances, but Mauve felt a weighted gaze on her that pulled her attention away. It was Calder watching her silently from where he secured his own horse. He looked away quickly when she caught his gaze, and she knew instantly he had been reading her.
"Excuse me a moment," she said politely to Aine and stalked towards him.
"How many times must we go over this?" she said rather harshly, "I don't want you reading me-"
She hadn't intended to be so harsh, but the sudden flood of memories from their former drunken night embarrassed her, and her discomfort was misdirected as anger.
"Who says I was reading you?" Calder asked, not bothering to look at her.
Mauve threw him an annoyed look. She hated how smug and handsome he looked, his hair still mused from his slumber and his tunic slightly unlaced exposing his toned chest. She pushed the thoughts down quickly and wished he would turn back into his troll form so the laws of nature would leave her be.
"I know that look, and why else would you stare?" she accused hurriedly.
Calder fell quiet and Mauve's cheeks brightened as she thought of last night-the stumbling dance, the prolonged gaze, she forced it from her thoughts.
"How have I offended you now?" he asked, finishing off the knot on his saddle bag.
He looked at her expectantly, his inhuman blue eyes tampered with human annoyance. He had sounded genuinely confused, but Mauve rushed away anyway feeling the weight of them on her back.
There was an air of grumpiness as they started back out on the road, everyone was still rather hung over from the night before, and even Mauve felt the weight of a hangover between her brows and was so parched she had to refill her water skin three times.
Thomas was in a particularly bad mood which proved her only amusement in the quiet, miserable group. She grinned to herself as she watched him try to hold his temper due to Aine sitting delicately in front of him, forcing him to be chivalrous. Aine had been assigned to ride with him to help lead the way home, but had proven to be quite the chatter box, and although Mauve found her need for conversation refreshing and charming, she could see Thomas's disdain as he mumbled agreeable grunts here and there.
It wasn't until Tristan fell rhythm did Thomas receive a break as Aine quickly fell into easy conversation with the prince.
Suddenly Mauve wasn't amused anymore, instead biting back jealousy as she watched Aine laugh prettily at the princes jests and saw Tristan smile when she spoke. He seemed very interested in her, leaning in closely to hear her, not to mention steal glances at her exotic beauty, which she had already seen all the knights gaze upon at least once. But he really seemed to gaze, looking intently into her eyes, making her laugh sweet delicate laughs.
Mauve counted the seconds. Counted to stolen glances.
Why was he looking at her like that?
"Why are you torturing yourself?" Calder interrupted her thoughts suddenly.
"I'm sorry?" Mauve said, though she knew what he meant.
"You're only hurting yourself," he continued.
"Are you serious right now?" Mauve asked, her jealously flushed away with pure anger. "I just told you never to…"
"Why?" he snapped. "Because it makes you upset with me? Why would I care if it makes you upset when you're always upset with me anyway!"
"That isn't true," Mauve said, trying to keep her voice down, Aiden had glanced back curiously at the trolls outburst.
"And why would you care anyway? You kidnapped me and forced me to lie to my friends, and now you continually invade my privacy and accuse me of disloyalty…" she hissed quietly, anger rising from embarrassment. "How would you feel were you in my position?"
Calder stiffened in his saddle. "I saved you…I looked out for you. Nobody else heard your shouts, you would have been dead; swallowed whole had it not been for me. I thought we had resolved this, I thought you trusted me…" he paused. "...But you are always angry at me…and you're always running away."
Mauve loosened her hold round his waist.
"I'm not running away," she defended softly.
The troll sighed. "Then what do you call last night? You couldn't even touch me."
Mauve felt her cheeks go red. "I was drunk. We all were."
"You would have gladly danced with me if I were your darling Prince Tristan," he said.
Mauve shushed him desperately, Tristan was barely a stones throw away, and she would die if he ever found out her true feelings.
"Please," she said. "You're being foolish."
"Am I?" the troll snapped. "What must I do? What must I do to make you feel something other than disdain for me? Where was your beloved Tristan when you were dangling over your death? Yet you give him all your love, all your faith. Help me to understand as I am actually quite confused. I know I still have much to learn about what it means to be human, truly I don't understand a great many of your actions and impulses, and don't get me started on human emotions. But forgive me if I am mistaken, that night after I saved you from your impending doom you assured me I had nothing left to worry about, I thought that meant we were to be friends. But friends don't run away from one another."
Mauve wasn't holding onto him at all anymore, she gripped the sides of the saddle questioning her own feelings.
In her heart she knew she didn't hate the troll, she had meant what she said the night he saved her from death. She had honestly did trust him, and she knew deep down this feeling he was sensing from her wasn't hate at all, it was fear, fear of him getting too close. But she was starting to sense that real emotions were hard to interpret through the act of mind reading, and until thoughts materialized into concrete statements her brain was nothing more than a storm of questions and emotions that Calder fished through from his limited understanding of true human emotion, and his own insecurities.
"You are doing the same thing you know," Mauve said finally. "Hurting yourself. That's all you're doing when you read me, because I have forgiven you and I do trust you…" she continued. "Clearly, you don't trust me."
And in a rush of emotion, Mauve swung her leg over the saddle and jumped from Billy.
"What are you doing now?" Calder asked.
"Running away," Mauve said, and rushed ahead before he could object.
Only an hour or so later, and quite out of character, Thomas called for break.
Mauve, already foot sore, didn't dispute the unusual call and helped Beeta down from Cecil's saddle, he gripped tightly to her, resting his head against her shoulder.
"You have a mother's touch," Cecil noted, dismounting as well. "The boy wouldn't let me near him, but he clings to you like you were his mother."
Mauve grinned and tried not to think of the many times she had cradled Gareth in her arms, and quickly passed him to Aine.
"Here," Tristan said suddenly behind them, "I'll lay out a bed for him."
Aine nodded and followed him with a soft smile in Mauve's direction. Mauve hurried off to help prepare camp, she hadn't liked how natural it had looked, the three of them together.
She ended up running into Thomas by the stream, he was bent over splashing handfuls of cold water onto his face. He looked extremely pale, and he appeared to be shaking slightly. She understood why had called for a break so soon, he could barely stand.
"Have you tried purging?" Mauve asked, coming to his side and stooping to fill her kettle.
Thomas had drank more than anyone combined last night, and he was obviously reaping the repercussions.
Thomas glanced at her in surprise. "And I suppose you are an expert on hangovers?"
Mauve rolled her eyes, from the amount of drinking she had seen him doing last night, she had a sneaking suspicion this was closer to alcohol poisoning, which, unfortunately she did understand all too well due to later half of her parents marriage. She had witnessed her fathers terrible reaching one too many nights before his departure from their life.
But she didn't disclose this, she'd rather have Thomas's doubt than speak anymore about her personal life today.
"Hold on I've got just the thing," she said instead.
She had noticed a tuft of butterfly weed growing not far from the shore, she hurried and plucked a few leaves from the root, bringing it back to him.
"Eat this," she said, offering him the velvety soft leaves.
Thomas looked at her like she was wild. "Thanks, I already grazed a field on the way in," he retorted.
Mauve smacked his arm.
"Come on, just eat it. It will give you instant relief, I promise."
"No thank you," Thomas insisted stubbornly. "I'm fine."
Mauve set her face and held his gaze. "You're not fine, you can barely stand. You trust me right?"
Thomas studied her quietly,and Mauve entirely assumed he was about to make a classic surly statement, but instead he took the weed from her, swallowing it in one bite.
He blinked in anticipation. "I don't feel any b-" But before he could finish his sentence, he turned and vomited into the stream.
She patted his arm, and quietly agreed with Aine.
Even with the best intentions, it was a dangerous thing to trust.