The Forsaken Children

Astrid is an observer. She lives her life watching others from a dusty window. With her mother long since dead and abandoned by her father, she always felt alone on life.

Until she saw Cleo through the dusty window. Seeing Cleo saved her.

Now Cleo's in danger and Astrid must decide if she has the courage to give up everything she has to save a girl who she hardly knows.


2. Satin Beauty


Do you ever sit in one spot for hours just watching the world around you? I do. There's a window in the Eastern section of the palace - the servant quarters - and this window is the place where you will usually find me. 

         It's veiled from the inside world by a heavy, discoloured curtain; I'm sure at some point in the past, this curtain was a yellow, satin beauty, but time and neglect has allowed it to become just another ignored item in a palace of the forsaken. I sit sheltered by the curtain and stare through the window down onto the lives of the little people who trudge around the sandy market below. 

          Their lives are all so intricate and if you watch them carefully enough, if you exert enough of your attention onto these peculiar and wonderful people below then the pieces of their existence begin to surface.  

          There are certain people who interest me the most, people I look for every day. Right now I'm watching a conversation unfold between two of my favourites - Cleo and the Dark Prince. Cleo is a stunning beauty; the first time I saw her was nearly seven years ago when I had been in a horrible, dejected mood. I had fled from a mess that I had created and wound up in my comfort spot, the window. I had been so sad that even people watching hadn't been healing my pain, I just felt an overwhelming jealousy for the tiny beings below.  

        That's when I saw her.  

         She was a tall, dark-haired girl. Although she looked far more mature than me, she had a child-like quality to her, perhaps it was the roundness of her cheeks or the largeness of her dark eyes. I don't know exactly what it was but there was something about her that gave me the impression that she couldn't have been much older than my ten year old self.  

         Once I had noticed her, I couldn't tear my eyes away from her. She was standing in the centre of the market, completely still. Everyone else swarmed around her, their bodies occasionally bumping against her as they rushed to their destinations. She stayed still, her face tilted slightly upwards as her eyes stared blankly at the palace. I don't know what she was looking for. I could think of no reason why anyone would want to stare at the palace for so long. I get bored after looking at it for a couple of minutes. It's just a large, stone building. 

         I could possibly understand if she wanted to stare at the west-side of the palace - that's the royal living areas and everything seems to be made of either marble or gold. It's a very attractive or classy look but it's certainly more attention grabbing than the servant's quarters. 

          As Cleo stared up at the palace, I stared down at her. I analysed her youthful features, the air of determination that surrounded her and the wide, cat-like eyes that flitted across the whole area again and again. As the hours passed, I continued to examine her strange fashion. She wore a long, white dress with a string, brown shawl thrown around her shoulders. Her hair was the reason I found her dress sense strange though; she had her hair spun into lots of tight plaits with beads strung onto the ends of the plaits.  

          As the Sun began setting and the market place emptied, it suddenly struck me who the girl reminded me of - Cleopatra, the last Egyptian pharaoh. I had at that point been going through a phase where ancient History interested me greatly and the girl standing before me definitely resembled pictures of the interesting ruler.  

          After that I made it my mission to try to watch Cleo every moment I could capture. Slowly, I began to piece together different parts of her life. She had two younger brothers and a baby sister; as far as I could tell, her parents were deceased or at least they worked away from home, I often saw Cleo with her siblings but never with anyone old enough to be her parents; she was about four to five years older than me. She often visited the market and stared up at the servants quarters, ignoring the bustle of life that thrived around her. 

          As my study of her deepened, I began to think that I had strayed from curiosity and had begun an obsession. I was addicted to this girl; the unique way she styled her hair, the determination which lit her dark features and the absolute indifference she had for the diverse world surrounding her. The only time I saw her talk to anyone was on the rare occasion that her brother (who I believed to be the second eldest) accompanied her and stood with her. I named him the Dark Knight. This mainly had to do with his looks - his dark eyes, black hair and rather tanned skin, but also because of the angered expression that often occupied his sharp face. He was everything I imagined a dark knight to look like, beautiful and deadly. 

          Today, he stands with his sister. Both their faces look tired and their eyes sunken, it isn't hard to see that they haven't been eating well recently. I know it's silly of me, half the country is starved yet seeing these two looking hungry really makes me feel sad. There's more than enough food here in the palace, so much food that's wasted yet still no help is offered to our starving nation. 

         My eyes focus back on Cleo as I take ten deep breaths, trying not to let the anger seep through my whole body. When I look back I find myself having to search to find Cleo again. When I spot her, I realise that she hasn't moved but there is now a group of men standing around her. As I watch the scene, I realise who the men are - palace soldiers. Their tall, muscular builds and dark, identical clothes should have given it away from the first moment I saw them but something distracted me. Something else caught my attention. Something to do with the way the largest man had a grip on Cleo's tiny arms. 

           It doesn't take me long to guess what's happened. The guards often attack innocent people in the market area, they blame them for some petty crime then whip them. I know why. It effectively forces the public to recognise who's in charge and who will always be in charge.  

         Usually whenever the guards decide to start a whipping, I take it as my time to leave and go rejoin my cousins in the living area but this is different; they chose Cleo. My Cleo.  

         Before I can think through what I'm doing, I push myself to my feet and sweep out from behind the curtain, trying not to cough when a layer of dust falls upon me. A maid carrying a large, silver tray jumps at my sudden appearance. Her eyes widen when she sees my face but she doesn't say anything, just nods slightly then scurries away down the corridor.  

          I take a deep breath then lick my lips, trying to bring moisture to my dry mouth. Swiftly, I begin to move forward, down seven, bleak corridors before reaching a small, wooden door with a bronze, square handle. I pass two more maids on my way but they ignore my presence and avert their eyes to the dusty ground.  

          Pulling the door open, I step out and slam it shut before I can change my mind. I glance around at the commotion around me. I've stepped into the middle of the market where a group of people have gathered to create a crowd for the whipping. Their faces show obvious signs of disgust. 

         "She's just girl, a young en'," I hear one man whisper.  

         Other whispers similar to this erupt through the crowd, nobody seems too happy that the soldiers have targeted a girl so young. It's difficult but I begin to make my way through the crowd, towards the middle, where I know Cleo and the soldiers are standing. At first the crowd pushes back, not wanting to let someone take their spot. I feel their sweaty bodies push against mine, the dirt and grease clinging to them begins rubbing onto me and though I don't like the rough, dirty crowd, I continue to fight my way through.  

          "Is that...?" one voice hisses. I turn and see a young woman staring at me; as our eyes meet, I watch her pupils widen and then her head bobs down to the ground, "S-sorry my lady." 

          A ripple begins to spread through the crowd, like the ever growing tendrils of disturbed water. Whispers run like wildfire through the mass of people, only this time their eyes are trained in my direction, not the direction of Cleo. As an unsure silence envelops the market, I catch the hushed conversation of a woman and her young son. 

          "Who that mammy?" the young boy lisps. 

          "I think that's the Astrid girl," his mother whispers back, her gaze crashing to the ground when my eyes travel over her tiny frame. Her black hair sweeps forward to shade most of her face from my curious gaze. I vaguely recognise her, sometimes I watch her in the market - she owns a small, cloth store. Last year her husband died, I remember him distinctly; he stood up to some soldiers who were trying to whip a very young boy. They shot him, his blood drained out onto the dusty ground of the market as his baby son watched, wondering why his mother was screaming. After that I decided to keep an eye on the mother. All in all, she's done rather well; a lot of women go into mourning for months on end after losing their partner. I never even saw her cry. 

          I drag my gaze away from the woman and wait icily as an opening is made before me, a path straight to the middle. I focus my gaze on the soldiers, who have frozen, their faces staring at me with disdain. Brushing aside their looks, I begin moving towards them; trying to ignore the wince spread across Cleo's face as one soldier tightly grips her arm, trying to pretend that the angry, red slash across the Dark Knight's cheek probably looks worse than it feels. I try to contain my anger. 

          I fail.  

          In the minute it has taken me to reach the soldiers, my anger is already so powerful, it's beginning to cloud my vision. I feel as though I'm being immersed in a colourless smoke; my eyes are beginning to water, my head's spinning from lack of oxygen and my skin is itching with light, jerking shivers. 

          "Soldiers," I begin, keeping as much control as possible over my voice. To my amazement and relief, I don't sound too scared or angry, just rather bored and powerful. "Don't you know what happens if you don't greet me properly?" I ask, immediately reminding them of who's in charge. 

          There's a short pause before the six soldiers all swing round and, in synchronization, bow with straight-backs, their short-cropped hair doing nothing to hide the bitterness on their red faces. "Greetings to Lady Astrid Clear," the six men spit out. 

          I smile coldly, not bothering to hide my amusement at their obvious anger. "Very good," I breath. "Though I don't particularly like the tone in your voices." 

          The soldiers straighten up, muttering to themselves about rude brats. I ignore it, none of them mean anything to me. None of them except the largest soldier. I know him very well, the head soldier, the man who lost an eye to protect the emperor from a sudden, brutal attack. 

           His good eye glints maliciously towards me. "Unless you have any official business here, princess. I would strongly suggest that you leave; after all it's very easy to get hurt in this market place. Very easy." 

            I try to look indifferent as I stare back into his squinting, nasty eye but I'm sure he has seen the flicker of fear in me. He's warning me, I know that. He's reminding me that he'll never forgive the person who attacked the emperor; the person who destroyed one of his eyes; the person who is now trying to demean his power in front of the whole market place. Me.

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