Looking at her reflection in the mirror, Serenity sighed. If these sleepless nights continued she would no longer be able to hide it with simple cosmetics. The images that she saw when she closed her eyes kept her from wanting to dream. No child, even a mature fourteen year old, should see their parents dead bodies so horribly mutilated. They might not have been good parents, but they were the only ones that she knew. That would have been enough to keep her awake at night and for a long while it was. It seemed as soon as she was starting to deal with that though, her brother was kidnaped. At first she thought he had simply ran off, thinking maybe he didn’t want the responsibility or simply had gotten overwhelmed. The King and his Queen were not good parents perhaps, but they where excellent rulers and made the job seem easier then it truly was.
Tonight she would drink one of those vile sleeping concoctions they kept in the great kitchen for the help. No need to let anyone with power know she needed something. If she did it right Nurse wouldn’t even need to know. Serenity did not wish to worry her dear nurse maid.
Taking one last look at her light gold locks and carefully prepared face, with it’s large blue eyes Serenity turning away from her mirror and headed for her sitting room. Once seated in her favorite chair the young princess looked down at the stack of letters and notes. The notes were more important to Serenity then any letter. They were quickly written messages from the servants, sometimes with the worst of spelling and handwriting. Serenity learned more about what happen in the castle this way then by any letter from some Lord or Baroness.
It was while reading one of the formal letters about her second cousin, William, coming to pay a visit that there was a light tap on Serenity’s door. “Come in,” she said, only loud enough that the person on the other end could hear her voice, but no louder then that.
Faith stepped inside the room with silent grace at the voice of her cousin and closed the door gently behind her. On any normal day, the taller Lady would be pleased to visit Serenity for cheerful chatting and a little tea, though sometimes it seemed the young princess only accepted the invitations out of royal obligation. Faith worried about her, more often than not, especially with the recent death of the King and Queen. Her cousin looked like a fragile doll under regular circumstances, but lately she could see the signs of fatigue showing on the girl’s face.
“Cousin, I have a bit of news,” Faith wasn’t quite sure how she was going to explain her newest idea to the Princess. Either way she said it, it would seem as if she were abandoning Serenity to the wolves. However if the Prince were to be found this was the only way. “The hunters have returned with no news about Nicholai. He doesn’t seem to be anywhere in Artolia,” Faith paused for a brief moment, tucking back a lock of her teal colored hair, before continuing, “There is talk that Artolia is lacking defenses, I can’t send any more guards out for the search without putting it in danger.”
“Serenity, I am going to conduct my own search,” she finally said, giving a serious and concerned expression. “Nicholai must be found and there is no one left to search. I will find him.” The comment was not some sort of false hope, Faith really truly believed she could track down her loose cousin. The idea hadn’t completely come at random, it was like she could sense him somewhere alive. It had been that way with all of her family as long as she could remember, but it never seemed so important until now.
Faith sighed, “I hate to leave you here alone, but Minister Atythan will be here to help you.”
Serenity had been studying her cousin’s movements since the moment she entered the sitting room. Though she had thought that perhaps her brother might have been overwhelmed by the pressures of becoming the new king, when it came to the throne and Faith, Serenity was much more certain. The fact of the matter was, everyone knew that Faith wanted to be as far away from the throne as possible. The last thing in the world she wanted was the responsibility of running the kingdom. Now, however, it was simply that, her responsibility. Serenity was too young by their laws to rule and the act of guardian almost always feel to the next living kin.
Faith was running away and Serenity was too tired to remind her cousin of her place. “So will that be an official decree that the minister help me, or will you simply run off looking for Brother?”
Serenity gave Faith what she knew would be considered a condescending smile. Lady Faith would do whatever she wanted, but if Serenity had it her way, she’d make her cousin feel dreadfully guilt.
Faith for her part often wished her cousin would have a tantrum, a screaming fit, anything that showed more emotion than the icy cold mask she wore just now. Where ever the emotional mask started, Faith was sure by now it was so deep that not even Serenity herself knew where it ended. It was something Faith desperately wanted to fix, and had started to try, but then chaos erupted and everything was turned upside down. The Kingdom would fall if Faith had to be in charge, she had no misconceptions about that and though the princess would be upset now, maybe in time she’d see why it was so important for Faith herself to find Nicholai and bring him home.
With a sigh, Faith took a seat in a plush chair, her silk skirts making a soft rustling sound as she moved. “I have already taken care of everything and plan to leave in the morning. I am very sorry, Serenity, but we need Nicholai.” There would probably be no convincing the princess, but she could not leave in good conscience without making sure Serenity would be alright in the castle on her own.
“Of course we need him. He is the heir and should be king.” Serenity’s own feelings about this where so mixed up she herself didn’t know how much of that was honest truth and how much of it was political nicety.
“As for what you said before. Artolia is weak, not because of lack of arms men, or generals, but lack of a ruler. The political edge is gone and every day we are viewed as easier prey. The merchants are already feeling this. Our neighbors are dealing with us harder then they have in many years and in the end certain deals are most likely going to have to be made. I have no intention of weakening our militarily any longer. If you go hunting for my brother, you will be the only official hunting party.”
Serenity took a cup of the tea from the tray that had been brought in just prior to the princess entering the sitting room. There where an assortment of pastries that the princess pointed to in offering to her cousin. Faith nodded to her cousin as Serenity sipped her tea.
Drake leaned against the wall next to the door, barely breathing. The redhead Knight Errant’s arms were folded across his chest as he listened through the door at Serenity and Faith, particularly Faith. This would be exactly like something she’d try to do, even when it wasn’t her place. ‘Especially when it wasn’t her place,’ he thought.
If it was up to Drake, he’d have gone out and been looking for the Prince the same day he went missing, but as far as he knew, Nicholai was already dead. His priorities had shifted now to Serenity, who was the next heir after her missing brother. Whether either she or Faith liked it or not, they had to accept reality: Nicholai was gone, and there was nothing either of them could do to bring him back.
Drake reached out and knocked the door open with an elbow. He could hear the girls gasp in brief shock at the sudden noise, and a small smile began to creep across his face, but he quickly squashed it.
“You’re not leaving,” Drake said flatly, looking back over his shoulder at the girls.
The Knight Errant had the infuriating habit of giving orders when he had no authority to do so! “I am afraid I will be leaving come morning. It simply must be done.” Faith told him with a bit of steal in her voice. She knew there would be no more conversation with Serenity if Drake was going to insist pitching one of his stubborn fits. The princess had enough to think about without having to hear a ridiculous and in the end, pointless argument.
“I’m sorry, Cousin. I would love to stay for tea, but there are a few more details I must take care of. Please don’t fret too much over matters, things will work out well in the end.” She rose from her chair quickly, giving Serenity a delicate supportive smile. Faith truly hoped it would work out in the end, for her dear cousin especially. Serenity seemed to hold the world on her shoulders.
Smoothing out her skirts, she gave one last wave to Serenity before brushing past Drake at the door. Faith didn’t utter a word to him or spare him another glance, hoping that he’d not make too much more of a fuss about the issue, though she knew better.
Once alone Serenity wondered why she thought that anyone would think beyond their own motives. Hadn’t her nurse maid, Mildred, taught her that lesson well, admitting even she expected something by raising and training Serenity properly? Nurse, as Serenity referred to the woman, might have regretted that candied answer though if she realized that Serenity did not trust her as much afterwards. Serenity trusted her more then anyone else in the world, just not as much as before.
As the Lady Faith passed by her in the hallway looking as if hell were on her heels, Mildred quickly stepped out of the way. It seemed the woman had much on her mind with her plans to leave the castle in search of the missing heir. That concerned Mildred little. Her loyalties lied strictly with the young princess, and so long as the Lady didn’t make moves to take the throne from the child princess, she could go running off on whatever silly adventure she pleased.
As Mildred grew near to Serenity’s chambers the knight, Drake, brushed past her, obviously chasing after the lady. ‘Good riddance, really,’ thought the nurse maid. As far as she was concerned he was just as much in the way as the others, constantly hovering around and getting in the way of good solid plans. Mildred figured they must have both spoken with the princess. It was then the perfect moment to have her own chat with the child and make sure the princess knew who her true allies were.
“Good Morning, m’love.” Mildred cheerily said as she knocked twice on Serenity’s door and entered the chambers in a busied fashion. The nurse hovered around the room picking up things here and there, rearranging, and secretly reading whatever small note she could catch a glimpse of. It was the daily ritual of making sure her sweet princess was still the darling little doll she raised her to be. “I see the Lady has paid you a visit, it’s such a shame she doesn’t care about you like we servants do. Just leaving like this when everything is such a mess.”
“Indeed.” Serenity nodded sipping on her tea. She then artfully painted a frown on her face. “I do not recall Lady Victoria being of the bloodline. This I think will be a problem. The last thing this country needs is contest for the crown. I think we will have to keep her distracted somehow. We’ll put her in the northern suites.” Serenity folded the note and picked up another one. She nearly choked on her tea when she read it however.
“Nurse, how many princes do they have in Iroka?”
“Several I believe dear.” Mildred said sweetly wondering what was upsetting the princess.
“I should have been informed of this sooner. No matter though, he shall be here either today or tomorrow if he left when he was suppose to. Make sure my cousin remembered to have the guest mansion readied for the royal guest.” Serenity then rose and gathered up her notes. Some she tossed in the fire that was hovering on the logs in the fireplace, the remainders she put in her desk after pulling out a key and unlocking a drawer.
Serenity then walked into her dressing chambers. “I’m going to take a ride.” The princess knew that her nurse found her enjoyment of horseback riding a waste of time and hovering on unladylike behavior. It was, however, a battle that her nurse had lost a long time ago, and not to Serenity even, but to Prince Nicholai. It was most probably the only thing that the siblings ever did together.
“Yes, miss,” Mildred replied as the princess entered her dressing rooms. The Nurse took that moment to go over the remaining notes on the Serenity’s desk. The Lady Victoria was a vain and bothersome woman, but the older woman doubt she would be much of a threat to the throne. The Prince of Iroka, however, that would be a slight problem. Mildred did not like the idea of her princess getting close to a man. It would ill-affect her carefully laid out plans. Something would have to be done about him.
“Don’t forget to take your cloak, miss! It’s chilly out,” she called to the Princess as she gathered up a few dirty garments to take for washing, along with a few pieces of letters carefully hidden amongst the garments. The Nurse left Serenity’s chambers to prepare for the arriving guests.
* * *
Drake followed after Faith, ignoring her ignoring him. She’d just keep ignoring his ignoring if he kept ignoring her ignoring like that, and going around in circles like that was, well, ignorant. He’d put a stop to this, one way or another. The direct approach always worked for him. The knight easily caught up to Faith, and grabbed her by the arm, not paying attention if she started complaining. She was stubborn, but he was stronger, and he started dragging her back towards her room. He pulled his master key set from his pocket, and it became abundantly clear was he was going to do–lock her in her own room! “Shut up and don’t struggle,” he grumbled.
“Have you lost your mind?! Let go of me!” Faith chided. Did he think he was going to lock her in a room somewhere? She had her own set of master keys. Not that she would divulge that tidbit of information incase he succeeded. If anything else, she would simply slip through one of the many hidden passages that connected through out the castle. It was simply the principal of the thing! He was stronger, she had to give him that. Faith couldn’t manage to twist her way out of his grasp, and she’d likely have a nasty bruise by the time he let go. “Do you have to be so rough? I didn’t even plan to leave until tomorrow morning. Did you plan to leave me locked up forever?!”
“Until you calmed down,” he snapped. “So, yes, possibly forever.” Drake didn’t barb people like that often, but when he did, that irritating icy tone made it even worse. Without another word, he shoved Faith into her room, and soundly locked the door behind her. There. That took care of that. Giving a brief, relieved sigh, Drake tucked his keys away again, and wandered out the main gate, into the warm, inviting morning. Drake took a deep breath, and a rare smile crossed his face.
The knight sat down on the Artolian castle drawbridge, and found himself hypnotized by the gentle gurgling of the castle moat flowing beneath the wooden bridge. It reminded him of life before Artolia, before knighthood, and before the Ivalecs. Back then, his only responsibility was to himself, and anything else wasn’t worth caring about. Drake laid back on the bridge, and folded his hands behind his head. The clouds passed by overhead, and as he daydreamed of his former life, he started to drift off to sleep.
Crossing her arms and giving the door a callous look, Faith waited until she heard that tell tale click of the lock and Drake’s footsteps fading down the hallway. He was infuriatingly bossy. Life was so much more peaceful in her own manor, away from the busy bustle of the castle, and away from the horrible man that seemed to go out of his way to stop her from getting anything accomplished.
Faith moved to the window and leaned out to see if she could catch a glimpse of Drake. He was snoozing on the draw bridge, no doubt assuming she was going to scurry out and run off in to the forest with out a plan or preparations. Did he really assume she was so daft? Faith scoffed as she leaned against the stone wall and crossed her arms. It wasn’t as if she decided out of thin air to go find Nicholai. Things were getting difficult in the castle. Without her cousin, Faith was next in line for the thrown. Serenity was not yet old enough to take on the responsibilities herself. Faith could do the job, that was not the difficult part. It was the constant attention and care put in to dealing with people that she could not stand. Faith was uncomfortable being the focus of so many people.
Then there was Serenity. The young girl didn’t even act upset over her brother’s disappearance. She was doing her duties without question. It made Faiths heart ache watching the girl surrounded by all those people, none of which really cared about the girl under the crown. Serenity needed her family, and her brother was all she had left besides Faith. To grow up under the close scrutiny of the country would crush the young girl, and Faith feared her shoulder’s were fragile enough.
That was enough pondering at the moment. Faith needed to check on the guest house and make sure everything was in order for the visitors Serenity would receive, while she was away. She retrieved her hidden key from a dresser and unlocked the door. Stashing it safely away again, she pulled deep ocean blue cloak from the wardrobe and wrapped it around her shoulders. Faith left the room, keeping a wary eye out incase Drake woken up from his nap and returned to the halls to stand watch.
Walking out through the front gates and out on to the bridge she caught a glimpse of Drake sleeping precariously close to the edge. She narrowed her eyes and a small mischievous smile snuck it’s way across her face. Faith was by all means, not a spiteful woman. In fact she went out of her way to avoid confrontation with people at the cost of her own comfort. But it seemed Drake would always bring out the worst in her. Quickly she stepped across the bridge until she was standing directly over his sleeping form. With a good quick shove of her foot, Faith sent Drake rolling in to the cool waters of the Artolian moat!
As Drake came bobbing and sputtering back to the waters surface she gave a quick, innocent wave of the hand. “Enjoy your swim, Sir Knight!” she called sweetly, before walking off towards the guest houses quickly as possible!
Drake floundered for a minute, but it quickly turned into a full-blown temper tantrum. As he pounded at the water, he started shouting awful and obscene comments in blackspeech, and even a few in draconic, some being provided from another entity offering suggestions directly to his mind. Some of the curses were bad enough to make the royal sage poke his head out the window to see who could be screaming such atrocious things. Still cursing, Drake heard Valencia taunted in the back of his head, ‘What a lovely way to wake up for you, yes?’ She was almost surprised that he used a few of her suggestions. Then again he really was irritated so adding fuel to the fire was easy.
Drake sloshed out of the moat, and looked down disgustedly at his armor ignoring her. Valencia, though more commonly known as ‘Avenger’ was a sword. Not a normal sword by any means, but enchanted. No one was quite sure what she was, some even said the sword was
cursed, but only Drake heard the voice in his head, as he was Avenger’s bearer. He grabbed his long hair and wrung it out over his shoulder, then started to peel off his half-plate armor and dropped it onto the ground at his feet. Significantly lighter in just his regular clothes and tabard, Drake charged off after Faith full-tilt. He could smell her smug attitude in the air. It was a sharp scent, like a knife between his eyes. Or in his back! It didn’t help that he knew that his chasing of the Lady Faith, drenched amused the spirit of the sword to no end.
As Drake started gaining ground Valencia ventured a question. ‘Once you have her ladyship then what? Are you going to bend her over your knee like a child and spank her? What she did was childish indeed and if you make her bottom sore enough she won’t have time to think of tracking off anywhere. You have a duty after all and it’s not to her.’ The last bit might have been uncalled for, but Valencia could sometimes see the way Drake’s mind worked with a certain irritating female came up in topic of late. Valencia however never thought of herself as the jealous type, she was, but she never thought of herself like that.
Faith should have known that she couldn’t have gotten away with the stunt so easily! The second she caught a glimpse of Drake on her heels, she lifted up her skirts and ran towards the guest house grounds. She reached it before he caught up to her, but keeping him out was going to be an entirely different matter. Then escaping again, well, she was going to have to do a little dodging. Faith was quick for such a small woman, and entered the manor with not more than twenty paces between her and Drake. Unlike the castle, the guest manor was more like a very large house. No surrounding walls or big moat, just a lovely house with white marble walls and large glass pane windows. Fumbling inside the huge oak wood doors, she slammed them behind her and dropped the large bar lock in to place. Drake was sure to find another way in, if he didn’t knock down the doors, but it would buy her enough time.
Drake slid to a halt in front of the doors, and pressed his ear to the thick wood. He couldn’t hear anything through them. He had a feeling she’d blocked the door up, though–she was stubborn and naive, but hardly stupid. With enough time, he might have been able to break the doors down, but he really didn’t want to break anything or hurt anybody. As a matter of fact, as long as Faith stayed there he was satisfied. At least now he knew where she was!
Drake thumped on the doors a few times, and stepped back, looking over the doorjamb carefully. He slid his dark gray, almost black-bladed sword from its sheath, and eyed its surface, staring at his reflection in the polished metal. He slowly rested the tip of the sword on the surface of the door, and took a deep breath.
“Vara!” The Avenger’s surface lit up with shimmering azure runes. A faint blue glow surrounded the blade, along with a faint white mist. Suddenly, with the thunderous crack of a shattering glacier, the sword was covered in a thick layer of crystalline ice, from the tip, all the way down to the hilt. Drake pressed the blade into the oak doors, and the entire front entrance was soon covered in a thick, translucent layer of solid ice.
Seemingly satisfied, Drake removed the sword from the ice-covered door, dispelled the weapon’s magic, and eased the weapon back into its sheath. “A practical solution to an impractical problem,” he mused, smiling at his handiwork. “With the front entrance sealed, that gives me one less exit to cover. I’m not quite as thick as you would like to think, Valencia.”
Faith inwardly groaned as she stood paused on the manor steps, watching Drake freeze the doors from the outside. It really wasn’t that awful, there were other ways out of the manor, including the back door and a hidden passage or two. But there were to be guests in the next few days, and it would have to be fixed or else they would have to stay in the castle! The poor servants were going to have a fit over the door, and likely be fussing over it for quite some time. She stomped an irritated foot before gathering her skirts and hurrying up the stairs. She might as well finish her duties and overlook the house to make sure things were in order.
Drake patiently waited, pacing past all the smaller entrances, just waiting for Faith to come out and run off. With the front door sealed, there were only a few other places she’d be able to leave from, and regularly patrolling them was the only way he was going to catch her. Waiting, however, was not something Drake was fond of. It had been nearly an hour, and he was starting to get impatient. He was considering storming inside and simply putting her in chains! She’d hate him for certain, but that was none of his concern.
‘That’s a lie, and you know it,’ Valencia chided.
“You be quiet,” Drake snapped back. The scent of faint perfume wafted across the air from the far side of the manor, snapping the knight errant out of his argument with his weapon. Without another word, Drake eased his way through the back gardens, past the side gate, and caught a flash of movement in the distance ahead before it vanished into the woods. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t see her; as long as he could keep her scent, he’d be able to follow her anywhere.
He started to chase after her, but quickly stopped before he reached the tree line. This was starting to get tiresome. Every time he’d catch up to her, she’d find some way to escape again, and he’d end up chasing her all over again. He didn’t have time to be following her heels all over Artolia! And she wasn’t going to listen to reason, so… “Experience has always been the best teacher,” Drake said to himself with a wicked smile. “What do you say we just stay out of sight for a while? If she wants to see the world, we’ll let her. She’ll have one run-in with some scruffy back-alley thugs, and come running back to the castle for protection.”
Valencia was about to speak, but Drake put a hand on the Avenger’s hilt, and patted it lightly. “Just play along this time. I know what I’m doing. I was hunting and trapping back when her parents were still in diapers.” Drake casually followed behind Faith, keeping far back enough to stay well out of sight, smiling to himself the whole time.