Leyan followed her guide down the vast hall from the thrown room. It was lavishly decorated by huge tapestries and paintings and predominantly coloured with dark skies and red earth. They depicted bird-like creatures and ferocious beasts, half man, half other, beings she had never encounter before, gripped in the throws of battle with man or other beasts. It seemed to her that every image on the walls was all teeth and claws and leathery wings. It was odd how in such a grand castle there would be no heroic war scenes or depictions of the conquering of opposing nations... Each picture seemed to be of mythical nature, nothing of the history of this nation was shown. Every now and then Leyan would try to pause to study one of these paintings or tapestries but the creature leading her held no regard for her interest. It ploughed on blind to Leyan's protests, walking slightly to fast for her legs to keep up at a comfortable walk, forcing Leyan to close the gap with the odd skip or undignified half run. She hastened a few steps behind the creature staring fixedly at the odd form its body took. It had hair which, far from being blond, was completely see-through. Like strands of glass leftover from making a window or bottle. As for it's body, it appeared to have no perceivable gender. No breasts, no facial hair, no typically male heavy shoulders, no broad female hips. From what she had seen of it's face it was just… not gendered. So utterly strange were it's eyes, far too bright, and home to doubled pupils. She trotted to catch up and walk alongside the strange slave, trying to engage it in some sort of conversation.
'Hello.' Leyan smiled but got no response from the creature. It just continued to walk, blue eyes fixed strait ahead,
'Hello?' She repeated, a little louder. Still no response, it seemed blind to her, ploughing on to wherever she was supposed to remain for the rest of the day. In desperation for some sort of communication with what ever this thing was Leyan crossed her arms and stood stock still, refusing to move. To her frustration the creature did not seem to notice her protest, instead it simply continued to careen down the corridor unhindered. Leyan's eyes widened in fear as her guide rounded a corner and disappeared,
'Hey!' She yelped, beginning to panic.
'Where are you going!?' She shouted after it, and dashed along the corridor after the strange creature. She rounded the corner but it had already disappeared. She was faced with an empty expanse of hall with doors and smaller corridors on each side, decorated with more paintings and tapestries with a large stained glass window at the end. But no guide. In a frenzy Leyan ran from corridor to corridor, peering down each one, desperate for any sign of her guide, until she came upon the stained glass window at the end of the corridor which irresistibly drew her eye.
It was vast, more that four times her hight with a gruesome and detailed image created by thousands of tiny pieces of coloured glass. It depicted a young blond haired warrior on his knees with his arms twisted behind his back, an expression of triumph dominating his fine features. He was being held fast by the left hand of a huge and deformed old man. Bent and twisted with rage and rippling with strength the old man seemed to be howling with untold anger, holding a sharpened branch above his head, ready to pierce the warrior's chest. He wore a torn blind fold about his head and what could only be his eyes lay ripped, bloodied and skewered on a dagger at the younger man's feet. Leyan frowned at the image, she knew that blind old man. Far thinner and less impressive that this grand image would have you believe, the poor creature she had met had been starved and haggard but no less dangerous. He had chased her through a ruin and attacked her, threatening to rip out her eyes not five weeks of walking from here.
'So this is who stole your eyes...' Leyan mused to herself as she rubbed the pail scars around her own eyes. Though she could not pity the violent and terrifying old blind man who had attacked her, she did wonder who it was who had stolen his eyes and why.
'I see your enjoying the castles many artworks.'
Leyan whipped her head round to face a young man she had never seen before. His voice was silky smooth and rounded, seeming to have the ability to make him sound both closer and further away than he truly was. He had sounded then as though his mouth was inches from her ear, but was in fact lent up against the wall several feet behind her, platinum blond hair shielding his eyes. He slid forward along the wall and pushed off to stand upright, hands hidden behind his back.
He was dressed beautifully in a red loose sleeved shirt, beneath a gold and purple patterned waist coat and knee length tunic. Leyan felt a sliver uneasiness ripple through her chest, though she could not quite place her fear. The young man seemed fine enough. Leyan slowly turned back to the window and pointed to the young warrior portrayed there.
'Who is that?' She listened as the young man behind her slid to her side, his movements barely audible except for the rustle of clothing. He moved like a predator, poised and ready to spring, perhaps that was where her uneasiness had arisen. He gazed up at the window through his silky hair and she watched as the muscles beneath the rather pail skin of his face twitched. He reached out a thin hand and brushed it against the glass then spoke.
'The picture depicts Arthelinus and his battle with the creature Molog, the abandoned son of a man and a witch. Molog lorded over a ruined castle that Arthelinus wanted to take back. The castle had never belonged to Arthelinus and it held no positional wealth or gain, simply a matter of pride. But Arthelinus was a fool, he underestimated the strength of the creature he had chosen to attack and was killed. But not before he had stolen the foul beasts eyes. He left it blind and bitter for the remainder of its life.' He turned his head to face her,
'You have met this creature, have you not?'
Leyan looked back at the image. He was unmistakable, although heavily muscled and huge in the picture, the shape of his head, features of his face and bent body where identical to those of the creature she had met. It would be impossible not to recognise him for who he was. She replied in kind,
'Yes. Though his size is greatly exaggerated. He was not much taller than me when I met him, and incredibly thin. He has dispensed with the blindfold.' The young man chuckled,
'The story has indeed been exaggerated since the event. I don't believe the king would be able to look his subjects in the eyes if it was widely known that his grandfather was defeated by an emaciated, witch-child half his size.' Leyan nodded vaguely, a frown tightening her eyes. Now that she knew, it was possible to see remnants this old warrior in the present king. Strange, that even as his death loomed he wore an expression of triumph, revelling in the knowledge that this story was one people would tell for hundreds of years. Perhaps he had not seen the death bringing branch above his assailant's head. More likely the expression was another exaggeration, hiding damning tears or screams for mercy that would have destroyed the reputation of the present king. She turned her head away, suddenly filled with stomach churning memories of her own; being chased through the ruin by a blind man who used her own damning scent to find her. Every breath, every pounding foot fall a betrayal. The blood around her eyes, his otherworldly strength.
She realised suddenly that the young man was staring at her through his fringe, and smiling. It struck her that there was something odd about his smile, though she couldn't place what it was.
'I noticed you seem to have lost your guide.' He extended a hand and bowed his head, 'I would be happy to take you the rest of the way.'
'Thank you.' Leyan sighed with relief reached for his hand, but paused before she took it, suddenly aware that she really didn't really have any idea who this man was. Other than his knowledge of the castle and its decoration, he had nothing else to link him to the vast building, or even the city. Other than his hair and, she supposed, his eye colour, but that could just be a coincidence. He noticed her hesitation and lowered his hand with a chuckle.
'Not as trusting as I thought. Let me introduce myself,' He ducked into a deep bow and spoke to her shoes, lasing his words with sickly sarcasm.
'I am Criorg, the king's spiritual advisor. I hold the power to commune with spirits from the other world, ' He rose to face her and pushed his hair from his eyes, revelling his coal black eyes, 'Unfortunately, I am plagued with partial blindness for the privilege.'
Leyan quickly marshalled herself. She had been taught from a young age that to comment, either by word or reaction, on the features of another was rude and, depending on what you said or did, a cruel act of fear. Her mother, on the few occasions on which she imparted words of wisdom had told her,
'One day you will come across a man or woman or nameless creature different from yourself. On that day your actions will show them what kind of person you are. Before even a word is spoken. What you see is not who they are, Leyan. Just as I see a stupid, weak little girl, that is not who you are, is it?'
With this in mind she gazed calmly into Criorg's seemingly endless black eyes and smiled,
'What do the spirits say, sir?'
Criorg blanched at the question and Leyan's lack of appropriate fear or awe. His face melted into a mask of disdain and he snorted at her.
'Not for your ears to hear.' He turned and strode down the hallway, beckoning for her to follow with a jerk of his head.
'The clue is in the title: 'The king's spiritual advisor.'. The words of the spirits are not for the likes of you.'
Leyan trotted to catch up. She was aware that she had offended him in some way and wondered what she had said or done to cause it. There was no time to think, however. Though thin, Criorg was fast and Leyan quickly lost her bearings as she followed him through the winding passages. She had no idea how she might get back to the stained glass window any more, let alone the throne room. She was well and truly lost in this maze of a castle.
Just as suddenly as he had started walking Criorg came to a halt. It was all Leyan could do to drag herself out of her own thoughts and pull up before she crashed right into him. He half turned and sneered at her.
'Your room.' He gestured to a door on his left, but before Leyan could enter his hand whipped out, viper-fast, and gripped her elbow. Leyan only just held in the shriek of shock and anger that threatened to burst out of her. She did not like being touched at the best of times but this man's grip was stunningly powerful and he had surprised her.
'Your presence here is not welcomed by all within the castle.' He hissed but did not look at her. Leyan had to resist the urge to punch the man in the face. She forced herself not to panic or struggle, 'Who? Why?' She spluttered.
Criorg suddenly dug his nails in hard, and tears pricked her eyes as she gasped but he did not let go,
'Not all,' He spat, 'That should be more than enough reason to leave.'
With that he stalked away into the depths of the castle and disappeared around a corner. Leyan stared after him rubbing her arm, what on earth just happened? Who did not want her here? How could she possibly up and leave after the king had pulled out all the stops to keep her here? Leyan filed away this odd information to be pondered another time and slowly pushed open the door.
On entering Leyan felt her jaw drop as she gazed at the mighty splendour inside, the incident almost instantly forgotten. It was bigger than any single room she had ever seen and furnished with such things she would never expect to find in a bedroom. In Leyan's experience a bedroom was where you slept and dressed, if it was warm enough, with space for a small bed and a chest for clothes. This room was as large as a farmer's cottage.
It was dominated by an enormous four poster bed, big enough to fit five, maybe six people sleeping side by side. Against one wall stood a large set of wooden shelves that reached the ceiling and bore hundreds of books in varying sizes and colours. More than Leyan had ever seen in her life. Another wall was home to a chest of draws, a wardrobe and a chest, a dressing table and a beautiful mirror decorated with carvings of vines bearing fruit and flowers. There was also a plain wooden door in the corner. The final wall held a desk and chair situated below a plain window and wide sill. The floor was dressed in a rich crimson carpet, soft and deep enough to hide her toes as she pulled of her shoes, afraid to muddy the gorgeous room. The walls themselves where papered in soft and warm twisting patterns of brown and cream, giving the room a soft, calm atmosphere, and at the foot of the bed was a cushioned chair she would have been happy to sleep in it was so large.
Leyan drifted through the room that had been assigned to her and landed at the book shelf. She gazed up at books so high she could only reach them if she climbed the shelf like a ladder. Stupid really, she thought to herself. It's as though they are just for show. No better than a painting. Leyan pulled down a book at random and went to the cushioned chair, curled up and began to read.
Many peoples of the great kingdom of Elizum-Donum found worry at the leading of the current King, Solin, Great of Heart, son of Rikard, son of Grathorn, son of the first king, Donum Fearth who conquered the races of shadow that held the land in the grips of sin and poverty five hundred years previous to King Solin's rule who gave his name to this great and plentiful land. King Solin held sway over the lands of Creeg, River-Wral, Doroth, Hethlin, Valeth, Macreath and lands to the north in the house of darkness, Eatre, Eline, Aelist and Ien, but lacked the kingly need for stable ruler-ship and kindness to his descendants and his followers. The king sort after much gold, silver and copper to build his kingdom's wealth to the numbering or five hundred pieces of gold, eight hundred pieces of silver and forty thousand pieces of coper. This all to the detriment of his child Arthelinus the elder, who despised the wealth loving King and farther and sort to dethrone him and take the rule back to times of stability and plenty. The attempted dethroning of King Solin failed and Prince Arthelinus was banished to live out the rest of his days in the ruins of Grithorug Castle where he brought up his son Arthelinus the younger in the lap of luxury. The young Arthelinus would go on to kill and dethrone King Solin and rule alone for many years. In this way….. the kingdom was … to former…. birth to five princes…. Beauty….. Monster.
Leyan crashed through the first set of doors she came to, her breath rasping in her throat and burning her lungs. She didn't stop to think as she dived under a table; the only hiding spot available, and clamped her hands over her nose and mouth. Not a second later the door was thrown open a second time as a man, old and haggard and horrifically thin, burst through and froze. A crooked smile broke his features in half, impossibly big, as he directed his empty eye sockets about the room, more from habit than any real use. Leyan swallowed a whimper and allowed herself a shallow quiet breath between her fingers. He twitched, and she could have sworn he sniffed the air.
'I know you're here.' He began to shuffle forward.
'I can smell you; Hot breath. Teenage sweat.' His face swivelled from side to side and stopped, angled right at her.
'Menstrual blood.' He chuckled as she looked down, silently cursing her body for giving her away.
'You can't hid from me… Your every breath is like a burning torch.' He walked towards her, arms out stretched and slowly for fear of tripping.
'You leak smells. I can almost taste you.'
Leyan was shaking with fear, every moment he got closer and closer to her. Tears streamed down her face as she watched his feat pad almost silently towards her, hands clamped over her mouth, holding in a scream filled with more terror than she had ever felt before. She forced herself to remain silent as he took the last few steps and his hips bumped up against the very table she was hiding under. His hands lowered and rested palm down on the top.
'Aww… a big girl like you, hiding under the table?' He cocked his head to one side and began to bend down. She could bare it no longer and the instant his face appeared over the edge of the table she snapped. All sense left and she bolted, flipping on to all fours and scrambling away, finally releasing the scream she had held in for so long. She felt his claw-like hands scrape along her back and legs and a shriek of rage as he tried to grab her. She had almost managed to get to her feet when a hand clamped around her ankle and yanked sending her careening to the floor. She shrieked in fear as she was dragged back across the floor on her stomach and out from under the table. The man was shouting gibberish as he flipped her onto her back and straddled her, pinning her arms to her sides with his legs, freakishly strong for one so thin.
'I'm gonna have your eyes girl, payment for those who took mine!' He pulled a vicious knife from his shirt and slammed her face to the floor. She could only scream as he brought the weapon down.
Leyan flew awake still screaming. Thrashing her arms and legs, trying to fight off the invisible monster that held her. The book fell from Leyan's lap with a heavy thud and landed open on the carpeted floor. A picture of the hansom, blond haired prince Arthelinus sneered up at the ceiling as Leyan dragged herself out of the nightmare. Sobbing and shaking she dug her nails into her arm, breaking the skin and focusing on the pain. Letting it bring her back, remind her of who she was.
With closed eyes, Leyan sat on the edge of the seat and breathed, listening to her heart as its frantic beats slowed. She opened her eyes and looked down at her arms. In the throws of the nightmare she had scratched and clawed herself red raw and where she had scratched too hard, blood trickled down her arms, pooling and congealing into dull brown scabs.
A memory flashed across her eyes; heat on her face, swelling, infection and fever. Plunging face first into a swirling, freezing river to stop her body from boiling her alive. She pushed her nails deeper into her skin and the sharp and very real pain jerked her back to reality.
It was at this point that Leyan finally realised she was being watched. A Silence was stood directly in front of her, its face dull and blank, gazing down at her and holding a bundle of deep red cloth. Leyan blushed bright pink, her fear turning swiftly into mortification then anger. This thing had watched her fighting her darkest memories and fears, spied on her while she slept defenceless. Seen her weak and scared and crying out for help. She gritted her teeth.
The silence bowed it's head a fraction of an inch and extended it's hand holding the bundle of coloured cloth to Leyan, where she sat wreathed in sweat.
'What is it?' Leyan snapped and took the bundle, trying to ignore the quiver in her voice. Her hand brushed that of the Silence and Leyan was surprised to find it warm to the touch, with rough calluses on each finger. She had presumed they would be cold and have the texture of smooth porcelain or glass, being so pale and still.
The Silence did not respond, though Leyan had not expected it to. This was the closest she had been to a Silence since her arrival and for the first time she noticed a small and barely visible scar across the creatures throat. Leyan frowned and leaned forward to get a better look, but the Silence took a swift step back and made several hand gestures to Leyan.
'I don't understand...' Leyan shook her head and tried not to cry again. The Silence was still, then repeated it's hand gestures, slower this time,
'I don't understand!' Leyan jumped to her feat and threw the bundle across the room. This wasn't fair! How could the king think to send her a servant she could not understand or be understood by? How could he trap her in this airless building, leave her alone for hours and expect her to simply know what was required of her? The bundle hit the wall with the faintest whisper of fabric and crumpled in a pathetic pile on the floor.
Leyan stared, realising how stupid and childish she was being, and quickly calmed herself. Taking a deep breath, she turned to face the Silence. Be rational, she thought to herself, be smart. They don't respond to my voice, or any sound I've made. I have never heard them speak, or make any sounds with their mouth or throat, and they communicate through sign language. They are visually very different from the majority of people who live in the city and I have only ever seen them in the castle.
She studied the creature in front of her, noting its large multi lobed eyes, the scar across it's throat and its long thin fingered hands.
'Your deaf. You communicate through bloody sign language… You can't speak at all can you?' Leyan rubbed her tired eyes and groaned, how could she have been so stupid? Of course they're deaf and dumb you idiot, it was so obvious now. She sighed, stood, and walked over to the fallen bundle of cloth and let it out. It was a simple red dress, pulled in at the waist with half length sleeves. It was made not of silk or cotton but some other material that felt like… nothing. If she closed her eyes Leyan could have sworn that she wasn't holding anything between her fingers. There was no weight or texture. The only proof of its existence was the faintest of rustles as it moved and the fact that she could see it, plain as day.
She looked back at the Silence and it gestured at a small pile at the side of the bed which consisted of her satchel, and the clothes she had left at the inn. Then it pointed to the door in the wall opposite the bed. It watched her as she walked over to the door and pushed it open. Inside was a huge wash room. It was bright and clean and white with a basin on a table on the left. Above the basin was a shelf vanishing under a myriad of bottles and tins of unknown substances. On the right, a large bath tub and a rack of towels that smelled faintly of flowers. A mirror covered the furthest wall, reflecting Leyan's fine frame as she peered around the door.
Leyan turned back to the Silence with an open mouth. What had she done to deserve such luxury? But at that point the Silence decided to vanish. Well, not quite. It moved passed one of the bed posts, out of Leyan's field of view, and didn't reappear on the other side. Leyan scrambled across the room and round the bed to see what it was doing and found nothing. It had vanished, seemingly through the floor.