Chapter XXIV - A Special Treat
Something did not smell right in the dungeons. Something had tainted the sharp musk ruminating therein. Sir Claudius slipped over toward the fireplace, donned his garments, and began scoping his surroundings.
Birds chirped outside and light broke in through the teeny cracks in the walls. But the scent was not that of a bird.
His papers were strewn across the frozen floors, just as he had left them the day before. No trace of any scampering or movements.
The man slid his gloves on over his palms, then stroked his black mustache. He squinted his silvery-blue eyes, tracing over every speck of dust, every ember in the fireplace, every minute detail of the dungeon. Nothing.
But still, something was out of place.
Sir Claudius jogged about the room. He planted his boots in each corner, sniffing. Glancing up at the high stone wall ceiling, he pointed and traced his fingers along the air. And then, the hunter turned on his heels, the boots squealing like prey. He locked his eyes on his target—the room of gold.
He swung his arms, making headway toward the room, then pushed the door and peeked inside. Enormous piles of gold—stacked all the way up to the ceiling and taking up all the air in the room, suffocating—were dispersed throughout. The hunter's eyes caught one in particular, in the farthest corner.
Then, he lurched at it, landing on all fours. Both his dark hair and cape swooped over to the side of his muscular body. Shoving his palms into the pile of gold, nearly ten metres taller than him, he reached inside. Someone stole his gold. And no one in their right mind steals dragon gold.
He brought the coin up to his nostrils and took in several whiffs.
Isolde took her husband by the shoulders, shaking him until his beady red eyes broke apart.
"What?!" he boomed, sitting straight up in bed. Charles twisted his body around until facing his wife. He held a hand up to his mousy hair, rubbing his head. "What ever is the matter at this hour, Isolde?!"
He fell backwards, slamming his head against the pillow and shutting his eyes. "Well, of course she is. It's market day!"
"Nay, Charles, open yer eyes and listen ta me," she spoke, stroking his stubble. The man's eyelids trembled; he opened one, not bothering to look at Isolde. Instead, his pupil followed the intricate designs on the white ceilings.
"Athena wasn't in 'er bed when I went ta check on 'er dis mornin'. She's gone, I tell ya." The woman stood up from her soft perch on the bed, her slender frame sliding across the room. She rubbed her arms and bit the insides of her cheeks. "You must go after her, Charles. I'm worried about 'er. She's never done anyt'ing like dis before."
"Did you check for a note, Isolde? She's left notes before."
"I didn't t'ink of dat!" As the woman scurried out of the room, she hollered, "I was just so worried about her wellbein' when I didn't see her da first time!" Her voice echoed down the long hallways, fading more and more after each word.
A couple seconds passed then Isolde returned, calling, "Yes, she left a note, Charles. Sayin' she went to da bakery early."
"There, that's your answer, my dear wife," he spoke, biting. "Will you let me get back to bed now?"
Isolde Everleigh walked over to the dresser, eyeing her husband like a hawk the whole time, and blew out the candle. As she watched him drift off to sleep, she crumpled the letter in her fingers. A crooked smile caressed her lips.
Four knocks sounded upon the Grand Entrance doors. Urgent and fervent.
Sir Claudius's shoulders tensed. He set down his writing. "What could she possibly want?" The tall, imposing man slicked his hair back, though he could never be as quite imposing when in the presence of her.
He wrapped his gloved hands around the circular door handles and pulled. In front of him, vicious and cold, was Mrs. Isolde Everleigh. She wore a brown coat with ruffled, polka-dotted fabrics covering her chest—like the poked-out breast of a falcon.
In Irish Gaelic, she spoke, "What have you done with my daughter? Where is she?" Her voice quivered, and broke near the end of her accusation due to the pressure she put on her vocal chords.
Sir Claudius lifted his brows, stepping back and holding his hands in a position of surrender. "I haven't done one thing to your daughter, Mrs. Everleigh. She hasn't even shown up today for her work. She usually gets here at nine and…" He looked at the Grandfather Clock. "Oh, that ole thing doesn't work. But I know it's around ten or eleven or so."
"'Tis 10:45. On the dot," Mrs. Everleigh snipped as she shoved past him, knocking him in the shoulder. Her arms were surprisingly firm, he thought.
"How did you know that?" he asked, rubbing his shoulder.
"I know how to read the sun. It's really quite easy once you learn."
He opened his mouth to ask another question but was cut off by Isolde yelling in English this time: "Athena! Daughter!" She positioned her hands around her mouth in an "O" shape as she called.
"Mrs. Everleigh, you must believe me," he assured her. "Your daughter is not here. Trust me, if she were, you would know." He chuckled, turning away, looking out one of the high windows. "She would probably be humming or singing to herself. You can hear her from one of the rooms." Sir Claudius smiled.
Isolde turned around, marching straight toward him, her chest puffed out and her wide hips swiveling. "What were you doing before I came?" she interrogated. One arm crossed over the other. She twisted her head, one braid falling from her back to her shoulder.
"I… was merely translating," he gestured to the Grand Hall. "My writing desk is in there, Mrs. Everleigh."
The woman leaned her head down, in thought. "What were you translating?" she asked the floor.
"Oh, just some tales written in Old English, that's all. Translating them to where more people can understand. A hobby, I suppose."
Isolde raised her eyes. He had never looked into them before, but they were a striking golden brown. For some reason, they reminded him of honey pouring out of a pot, layering as it landed, for the colors seemed to be shifting every second he peered into them. "You must teach her," she spoke.
Sir Claudius looked around the room. "Me? Teach her… what? How to translate? Because if so, she would have to learn Old English first and that's a hassle in and of itself—"
Silence. Sir Claudius's lips hung in mid-air.
"You must teach her da tales of old. Gaelic tales. That's it. That's what da púcaí want."
Sir Claudius brought his finger to his lips. "I'm sorry, I'm not quite sure I understand."
"The first time I came here I told you that the púcaí want for you and my daughter to have some kind of… 'partnership'. It seems I'm the only one who remembered that."
"No, Mrs. Everleigh. I remember."
"This whole time I've been thinking what they could possibly want the two of you to do together." She looked at him, squinting her eyes. "Now I know."
"I'm still confused about what they want us to do. I apologize if I'm missing so—"
"They want you two ta preserve the ancient culture! Why must you be so thick?!"
"O—Oh!" he called. "This whole time—I'm sorry—I was thinking of something else." He winced, slamming his palm against his forehead. "Idiot!"
"And just what were you thinking?" She put her hands on her hips.
"Nothing you need to know, Mrs. Everleigh."
"If it's about my daughter, I should be able to know!" she retorted.
"Ach!" Sir Claudius yelped, holding his head. "I can't! Look, this is my castle and my authority, alright? I will teach your daughter the old ways. The tales, the potions, the language—everything she needs to know. But leave me be, please! Deal?"
Mrs. Everleigh stood in deep thought, her eyes going back-and-forth between the ground and him. "As long as she is a-learning. Deal."
Sir Claudius held out his large, gloved hand. Mrs. Everleigh stared at it for a moment, before shaking. She broke away as quick as an owl snatching its prey.
The man brushed his palms against his suit. "Now, then, the only question left: Where is your daughter actually?"
Isolde paced around the living room, beginning at the enormous brick fireplace and ending at the kitchen—the kitchen she did not even know how to use, for the new stove was so unlike anything she had ever cooked with before. The whole room was plain and white, with wooden Doric columns holding the ceiling up. An expansive rug decorated with swirly cloud-like patterns covered the entire living room floor. The crisp, clean furniture sighed, bored with themselves.
Heavy footfalls sounded from the hallway containing the bedrooms.
"Fin'lly up, I see? Late fer work, are ya?" Mrs. Everleigh chided.
"Yeah. What of it?" Mr. Everleigh yanked his hat and coat, as shoddy as ever.
"I thought ya said you were gonna start tryin' ta be better, ya know wit' dat new job ya got 'n' all."
He turned around, eyes ablaze. His cakey red face obtained layers and layers of wrinkles, from his chin to his hairline. "I am doing better!" he erupted, his voice shaking the pearly china in the cupboards.
"Then prove it by goin' and findin' yer daughter!" Isolde screamed, pointing her finger out of the arched window.
Before Mr. Everleigh could make another sound, a voice alarmed the two of them. It was sweet and high, though not necessarily on pitch. Isolde and Charles ran to the window. It was their daughter.
She trotted in through the door, a basket on her arms, her face pink and glowing.
"Athena!" Isolde rushed to her daughter's side. "Where were ya?!" She hugged and kissed her.
The young girl giggled, pushing away her mother's arms. "I left the note, didn't I?"
"Well, yes, but we weren't sure—"
"I was," Mr. Everleigh interrupted.
Athena smiled, opening the top to the wooden basket her mother weaved for her years before. She stuck her hand down inside, pulled out a cream puff pastry, and bit the head off of it. "Mmm…" the girl sighed. "Delicious."