Chapter 7A Chapter by Kate P. Lamb
“What is his fascination with our sister?” Adel snarled as he paced around that evening. Despite countless hours of searching and an incident during which Adel was nearly arrested for threatening a guardsman, the trio had no choice but to resign their search; they had no idea where Lana had been taken. Crestfallen, they resigned themselves to a grubby little tavern on the outskirts of the marketplace, and were currently seated around a table in the back, brooding. Cyrus said very little during the aftermath of losing Lana yet again, leaving the ranting up to his scarlet-haired brother. At the moment, quite a few people were staring because of Adel’s outburst, some with glares, and others with apprehension.
Erika felt terrible, despite both brothers’ continued assurances that it wasn’t her fault. If she’d only kept closer to Lana, if only she hadn’t been so focused on the wares in the market… Adel watched her stare, unseeing, into the flame that came from the solitary candlestick on their table. She wore a miserable expression, guilt etched into her features, seeming to line it prematurely. Adel sighed, forced himself to calm down, and sat down next to her. She didn’t even glance up.
“Look, it’s not your fault. For all we know, they could have been looking for you, too. At least you’re still here with us.” He said in a voice that was a bit rougher than he meant it to be. He made to put a hand on her shoulder, like when they were at the pond, but just like last time, he retracted it, thinking he wouldn’t be helping matters. Erika simply sighed and poked at her now cold food. “Erika,” Adel murmured. The tone of his voice made her look around, more startled than anything. It was soft, an unusual sound to come from the rogue’s lips. “Stop beating yourself up over this.” He pressed on, watching her unblinkingly. Unnerved, Erika turned to look at Cyrus, who was standing, leaning against the wall that their table was backed against.
“He’s right, Erika. At least we still have you.” He murmured soothingly, smiling down at her. She looked down at her food, sighing. Cyrus caught his brother’s gaze over her head, and shook his own fractionally. Adel understood not to press things, but just let her come out of it herself. After several minutes of awkward silence, Erika stood, looking between the two.
“I’m going to bed.” She announced with a dismal note of finality. “I’ll see you two in the morning. Sleep well.” She offered both a slight smile that looked more like a grimace. As she passed, Cyrus gently laid a hand on her shoulder, causing her to stop and look up at him.
“And you, Erika.” He murmured simply, giving her shoulder a squeeze before releasing her. Erika looked down again and traipsed her way upstairs to the room that Cyrus had rented out for her for the evening. She sat on the bed, staring around the room. It was simple, a small table with a wash basin and a small portable candelabra, a chair to place clothes or bags upon, and the hard bed upon which she was now perched, covered with a thin, moth-eaten blanket. A moth circled the flame of the candle, which was the only source of light besides the moonlight that filtered through the window. Laying down, she gazed up at the rafter-adorned ceiling, then at the moon that had just made an appearance outside her window, eyes heavy with exhaustion.
She stood in the middle of a field of white flowers. Distantly, she could make out the silhouette of a castle, but it was shrouded in a fog that permeated the entire area. As she turned, looking around at the bits of the field she could see through the fog, she got the distinct impression that she had been here before, a very long time ago. She wasn’t afraid, this place was sacred… Safe. Feeling compelled to walk, she complied, picking her way easily through the fog. The castle was no longer visible now, and the fog lifted slightly, to show her that there was a hill nearby, and, almost parallel to it, a gnarled old tree that stretched out as if to reach across to it. She walked toward the tree until she was directly underneath it, looking up along its bark into the mass of leaves above it. Everything seemed clearer beneath this tree, and a calmness washed over her like she’d never felt before. Somehow, she understood that everything that happened to her happened for a reason, guiding her to an ultimate, although presently unseen destination.
Turning now toward the hill, she began walking toward it, but stopped suddenly. In the distance, just beyond the hillock, she saw two figures, their personas obscured by the suddenly denser fog. One was tall, and judging by the outline, a well-built male. The other was slender and petite, a female. They were joined at the hand, and no matter how much she squinted, she could not make out who they were. Then, just as suddenly as they appeared, they disappeared. She shook her head, frowning, and turned her attention back to the hill, that somehow seemed much larger than it had moments before. Somehow, she knew all her answers would be there. The fog would lift if she could see the other side.
As she made her way around the knoll, she noticed that part of it had been dug into; there was a door imbedded into the side of the mounded earth. Curious, she moved toward it with haste. Just as she was about to reach for the latch, the door began to swim before her eyes as if it were a mirage. With a yell, she stumbled back as a large, snowy-white dog appeared to be coming through the solid wood. Its oddly familiar eyes stared at her, seemingly angry. It bared its fangs, but it wasn’t in attack. It was in warning.
“You do not belong here.” It said to her, and she was surprised to hear a note of sadness in its growling, grating voice. “You do not belong here, Erika…”
Erika’s eyes flew open, looking up into Cyrus’ concerned grey ones. She shot up into a sitting position, narrowly missing hitting him in the forehead, and looked around wildly. Cyrus was leaning over her, evidently concerned, and Adel was in the doorway, seeming to have just removed his hand from the hilt of his blade. Both were now staring at her with a mixture of exasperation and relief. Cyrus smiled slightly, straightening up and brushing his bangs out of his face, while Adel scoffed softly, trading his look of relief for one of annoyance.
“We heard you yell, and thought you were in trouble.” Cyrus explained at the sight of her bemused expression. Her eyes widened slightly at this as the memories of her dreams came rushing back to her.
“But you were just sleeping.” Adel jeered. “Nightmare scared you?”
“No, just startled me.” Erika replied. The tone of her voice seemed to worry both men, as they exchanged a look, while Erika got up and went over to the window overlooking the street that the tavern was on. She watched a cat gambol down the street in the moonlight and then darting into a darkened alleyway, no doubt in search of something to eat. “Field of white flowers…” She whispered
“What?” Snapped Adel, the annoyance of his tone barely masking the worry he’d felt for her at the sound of her scream, though Erika nor Cyrus luckily took no notice.
“Is there a field anywhere around here that white flowers bloom in? I think it’s within view of the castle.” She said quickly, looking between either of them for a hint of a reaction. She got it, as Cyrus’ eyebrows rose questioningly.
“The Field of Kings, but how could you know about that?” Cyrus asked her slowly. Erika didn’t answer, simply arched a brow, telling him to explain. “It is where the Kings of Powys and their most highly-valued aids are lain to rest. Sometimes there are knights buried there, but it is mostly just the members of the Royal Family.”
“Is there an old tree there as well?”
“No, just the field. It stretches on for several miles behind the castle.” Cyrus looked at her searchingly, a frown creasing his brow. “What did you dream about?” Erika merely shook her head, returning her gaze to the window.
“It was nothing; just a dream.”
Weeks after the abduction, the stresses of inactivity were beginning to show on the group. Adel snapped at the slightest of imagined insults, and he and Erika would row polemically. The strain was showing on Cyrus too, even more-so than the other two, for his skin had grown ashen, and his handsome features seemed to hollow slightly, as if he were suddenly malnourished. Nevertheless, he still moved with the grace and agility that he normally exhibited, which came in quite handy when attempting to keep Adel and Erika from killing each other.
It during was a moment like this that Erika suddenly noticed how worn her friend was. She ceased her attempts to maul the redheaded rogue immediately, and instead turned her attention upon Cyrus’ worrisome pallor.
“It’s nothing, Erika.” He murmured gently, shaking off her attempts to wheedle his ailment out of him. “Really, I just haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
“You look like you’re just skin and bone, Cy.” She persisted, a frown etched into her features. Cyrus turned to her and smiled, as if she’d made some kind of semi-humorous joke. Gently, he placed his hand on her head, as if she were but a child, and then walked back over to where they had been pouring fruitlessly over hand-made maps of Powys, trying to find a hidden entrance or a backdoor into the castle that they had missed.
“She couldn’t have just disappeared.” Adel growled for the hundredth time, glaring at the map as if it were withholding information from him. Erika sighed and went over to them, sitting herself between the brothers and pulling one of the maps closer to her. Then, as she stared down at the grid work of inked in lines that represented streets and homes, suddenly, something seemed to click.
“But what if she did?” She said in an undertone, staring sightlessly now at the map in front of her. Cyrus and Adel looked round, staring at her as if she were insane.
“She’s a solid person, she can’t just disappear.” Adel argued, rolling his eyes. Erika shook her head, and grabbed a map that detailed a larger view of the city.
“What if we were looking too close to the castle? These old cities-” For even now, it was indeed an old city. “-What if there were hidden passageways that lead into and out of the castle, in case there was a siege upon it?” She looked up at the two men; eyes alight with the fire of her realization. Cyrus’ brow creased and he pulled the map she had grabbed toward himself, scrutinizing it, while Adel loomed over his shoulder. He then looked up at the redhead.
“What do you think?” He asked quietly. Erika wasn’t entirely sure why he was asking Adel’s expertise, until she remembered his ‘profession’.
It was several times over the past few weeks that Adel had turned up with surreptitious items that seem to have been procured from the market. At one point he had even came back with an entire outfit for Erika, stating pointedly that her appearance kept making too much of a scene whenever they had gone out into public, and that her clothing was too conspicuous. It was with ill grace that Erika donned the clothing of the womenfolk of the era, however there seemed to be quite a bit of jewellery that none of the locals had in Adel’s costumes; a string of pearls for her neck, delicate bracelets, (although the one she’d found upon her pillow weeks ago was her favourite) brooch-like earrings that seemed to match various articles of clothing he kept bringing in order to give her variety. Essentially, Erika had been dressed like a Lady for weeks now, and it hadn’t cost her a coin.
She was presently seated at the table in a long, warm woolen skirt that flowed seamlessly into the long-sleeved top with a belt wrapped about her midsection to mask the transition. The top scooped into a V-neck, which showed an ornately decorated undershirt, today, dark blue with golden-threaded embroidery. Subtle designs decorated her top, in a darker brown than the garment, but the skirt was plain. And although she got curious stares, she defiantly whipped her loose hair over her shoulder, refusing to have it painfully pinned up into twists and curls.
She tugged another map toward her, asking Adel in a quiet voice if he’d noticed any doors that lead from the ground or into a wall. He racked his brains, but nothing came to him. The three of them were now completely convinced, however, that there was something that they missed, and agreed to go scout out the city the following day. After a whispered argument between Cyrus and Erika, Erika stated point blank that she would be able to help, and she would move better if she were in her regular clothes, or even if she just wore them beneath the outer-layer of her outfit. Finally consenting, Cyrus relaxed against his chair and watched her carefully scoop all the papers into a single pile, tying them together with a string of twine she’d bartered off the landlady. Rising, she tucked the bundle under her arm for safe keeping, and bid the men goodnight.
The two men watched her ascend the stairs silently. Cyrus had a slight frown on his lips, and he turned to Adel once she was successfully out of earshot.
“Do you have the same feeling as I, that something is going to go horribly wrong tomorrow?” He asked in an undertone. The redhead glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, and then returned to staring at the stairs, an equally concerned frown on his features. Without answering his brother, he stood and brushed his clothes clean, before turning and stepping out into the chilled night.
The following day, Erika had traipsed downstairs with her regular clothes hidden beneath the long-skirted garment she so loathed, and went directly over to where Cyrus was. He greeted her with a gentle smile, looking drawn.
“You didn’t sleep last night.” She accused softly, earning a chuckle.
“Be that as it may, I am still ready.” He replied, handing her a bowl of porridge and a piece of bannock, to tide her over. He went and sat with her as she ate, looking around the room cautiously every once in a while.
“Where’s Adel gotten off to?” She asked after a minute, nibbling on the end of her bannock and looking around.
“Making some last minute scouts.” Cyrus replied, smiling at her. “Eat, Erika, you’ll need it.” He added. “We’ve had a slight change of plans; you’ll be going with Adel, instead of the three of us going separately.” Erika choked on her porridge slightly, and it took a few sputtering moments for her to be able to speak again.”
“But why? I thought we agreed last night that it’d be faster if we-“
“Faster, but not safer.” The rogue interjected, stepping up behind her and flicking water droplets from his head. Erika only then noticed the soft pattering of rain on the roof and windowpanes. “You’re coming with me so I can keep you safe.”
“I don’t need to be babysat!” Erika bristled, but Cyrus held up a silencing hand as Adel opened his mouth to retort.
“We both know you don’t, but this is a dangerous job, and we both feel like you should have someone to look out for you.” He said sternly, leaving Erika very little room to argue. With a soft growl, she went back to eating, glaring daggers at her spoon as if it’d done her personal wrong.
So, a few hours later, Erika found herself following after Adel as he wove through the crowded streets of Powys, like a fish swimming upstream. She called out to him to slow down, but her voice was lost in the incessant babble of the city-farers, and the crack of thunder overhead. Hissing out her breath between her teeth, she struggled on alone, and had just forced her way between two particularly large workmen when she was grabbed by the back of her cloak and pulled roughly back toward them. She met their leers with a belligerent glare beneath her cloak’s hood, daring them to speak. The one on her right’s eyes narrowed, and he spoke in a grating, husky voice that reeked of spirits even in the downpour.
“Watch where you’re going, my dear,” he smirked, his friend giggling as he moved forward, causing Erika to make an involuntary step backward, then another. “You never know whose attention you’ll attract in these parts.” His eyes raked her sodden, cloak-hidden frame, obviously attempting to see through the shapeless folds. Beside him, his friend made a choked noise of breaking restraint and moved slightly closer, reaching for her wrist. Erika slapped his hand away and curled her fingers into claws to rip at his skin. The man howled in surprise more than pain, and then lunged blindly forward.
Grateful now that Cyrus and Adel had taken the few moments to teach her some basic defensive maneuvers before starting on their little mission, Erika deftly sidestepped the blundering advance and watched the goon run headlong into the wall they’d tried cornering her against. She barely had time to relish in the sickening crunch of bone on rock, or to turn to the other before something hard cuffed her upside the head and stars exploded in front of her eyes. Her hood fell back from the impact, and the rain drenched her head, helping to clear it from its sudden dizziness. Blinking hard, she saw a lithe, cloaked form leap between her and her remaining assailant, brandishing some kind of weapon at him and speaking in angry, forceful Welsh. She saw a glint as a flash of lightning glinted off the threatening object; a dagger of some sort, then.
Whether it was the dagger or her protector’s words that got through to the workman, he cast one last, leering glare in Erika’s direction and turned, disappearing into the bustle of the oblivious street with his friend slung over his shoulders. The dagger disappeared between the folds of the hooded man’s cloak.
“A scream would have helped you better than your claws, miss.” He said to her, turning to face her. “Although I must say, no less effective overall.” Erika’s initial gratitude faded quickly. She’d thought Adel, or maybe Cyrus had noticed her disappearance and came just in time. Now though, she saw that her savior’s face was hidden beneath the hood of his cloak, and he did not lower it. He dressed well, from what she saw between the heavy woolen folds, but not richly; a successful merchant masquerading as a hooded vigilante? She had to suppress a sudden, unexplainable grin at the sudden image of a comic book character came to mind. Well, she thought, it’s been known to happen. Dark knight, indeed.
The man in front of her watched the emotions and thoughts flick across her face with an air of amusement, although of course, as his face was hidden, Erika couldn’t be sure. Finally, after he decided that they had dallied long enough, he reached forward and grabbed her wrist. The combination of her recent training and skittishness of recent events caused her to react immediately. Erika broke free, and at the same time whirled so she was closer, ramming her elbow squarely under his ribs, hearing the breath woosh from his lungs. He crumpled, and Erika backed off, glaring.
“I wasn’t going to do anything to you!” The figure gasped, doubled over with arms wrapped protectively around his abused abdomen. Slowly, he rose, rubbing the spot where she’d hit him. “Why didn’t you do that to those men?” He demanded. Erika noticed in a more detached part of her mind that his tone held an oddly familiar, authoritative quality, something that she heard before but couldn’t quite place.
“I didn’t want to get close enough for them to grab me.” She replied in a clipped tone, eyes still narrowed suspiciously. “Besides, there were two of them, and only one of you.” The man appraised her for a moment, his hooded head tilting slightly.
“Come with me,” He said, his voice holding the slightly commanding tone that she’d noticed before. “I won’t grab you, but just come with me.” He turned, glancing back at her to make sure she was following, before making his way along the outskirts of the crowd, making it easier for Erika to keep up this time. She frowned, wondering where he was leading her, until she saw the huge wall of the castle grow closer and closer. She faltered, and in that moment, the hooded man twisted and grabbed her by the wrist, pulling her forward.
Erika lurched and stumbled, but before she could fall, a strong, familiar arm grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back. Adel glared at the other man, holding Erika protectively against his chest, his wicked sword drawn. Erika, instead of looking at the impending fight, stared at the blade. The steel seemed to be ringing, the sound growing louder to her ears. Adel pushed her behind him and the hooded man leapt back, his hood falling back, finally bearing his face. Erika couldn’t hear her own gasp over the ringing in her ears. The man who’d saved her was Prince Camber, the one who’d kidnapped her and Lana the first time, the one who had Lana captive now. But Erika didn’t gasp at that, as shocking as it was. It was what Erika saw behind Camber.
A great white beast, one she’d only seen in her dreams, walked up behind him, staring directly at her. Nobody but her seemed to notice him.
“You do not belong here, Erika.” It said to her. She narrowed her eyes, and shook her head stubbornly.
“I don’t want to leave.” She argued, but she could already feel… Something… Take effect. She could feel herself fading, the things in front of her seeming dreamlike, where her memories of her past, her father and her friends, became more lifelike. Even still, she could see the image of Adel in front of her, turned toward her now, because she spoke. His eyes had widened, and his sword was held slack. “Adel!” She cried, reaching for him.
He reached back to her, but it was too late. His fingers tried grasping hers, but they slipped through, as if she were a ghost. He looked alarmed now, lunging forward as if to hold her bodily to his world… But it was too late. As soon as he moved, the ringing in her ears grew louder… Suddenly, everything went black, as if a candle had been snuffed out, and Erika was falling, the white jackal at her side, teal eyes desolate with the separation.
© 2011 Kate P. Lamb
Kate P. Lamb
Calgary, AB, Canada
AboutEnjoy reading and spending time with Nature. Studying for my BA as of Fall 2012, then hopefully onto graduate school to become a Naturopathic Doctor. Published poet, working on a fiction novel and ano.. more..