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.

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3. Unfamiliar

 

There’s a long, tense silence as I glare into the soldier’s good eye. It’s a small, ugly eye that sits under a forehead made from frown lines. I try to ignore the other half of his face - the side where a bandage neatly covers the socket where his eye should be. I remember seeing him without his bandage on once, I wanted to scream; it was too unnerving.

         Whenever I look at that bandage, I feel a strange, empty pang inside me. I don’t know what emotion it is trying to surge up in me; maybe it’s the guilt I should feel or perhaps it’s just disgust. I don’t particularly care, I just don’t like it

          Sucking in a quick breath of air, I realise I have let the silence drag on for too long. I need to regain control. “Thank you, Flinard,” I say, forcing myself to use his name. “It is so nice to have a head soldier that constantly worries about the safety of his superiors. Unlike some soldiers, I can trust you. Some soldiers don’t have any manners, they never do as they’re told, they always get what’s coming to them.” I pause, noticing that the crowd and all the soldiers have suspended every degree of noise, they’re eyes all trained upon the double-edge conversation flicking between me and Flinard. 

          “Yes, I always make sure that myself and my men are polite,” Flinard nods, tersely. “If not I sort them out. If they can’t do their jobs properly then they deserve to be punished. It’s justice, is it not?”

          “Of course,” I reply calmly to Flinard’s growl. “But is that what your doing now, to this girl?” I ask, thrusting my hand out to motion towards Cleo’s perplexed face. 

          Flinard’s eye scans over my face, wearily trying to understand where I’m going with this. “What do you want, princess?” he asks with a sigh.

         “I want you to take your hands off that girl,” I say, trying to obtain the air of determination that I always see upon Cleo’s face. Flinard’s eye narrows, I can practically see his miniscule brain cells trying to understand my demand. 

          “Why?” one of the other soldiers questions. He looks young, maybe twenty years-old. No more than five years older than me. His face is unfamiliar, unscratched and his uniform spotless; I get the distinct impression that he’s new to the job.

           “Are you questioning me?” I speak quietly, my voice sounding icy. I feel a little bad about picking on a new recruit but then a glance at the slash across the Dark Knight’s cheek and I’m overwhelmed by fire, turning my guilt to ash. “How dare you question royalty.”

          “I apologise if you thought I was unduly questioning you, Lady Astrid,” the young soldier says, his lips hardly moving. “With all due respect, though, we can not let this woman go.”

          I narrow my eyes towards the young man, he stares back, resiliently. “And why is that?” I ask, trying not to lose control of my anger.

          “Because... Well, because it’s against the law,” he speaks slowly, as though he’s talking to a wild beast; a lion that could lash out without any warning. “She’s a threat to the royal family’s safety and as your personal soldiers we can not let any threat have the chance to hurt you.”

          “What do you mean she’s a threat?” I frown. Even in the soldiers’ warped minds, I couldn’t see how one, hungry thief could be thought of as a threat to the royal family. 

          “She’s a traitor, she’s trying to kill you,” the soldier states with a definite nod. He can sense my determination wavering.

           I vaguely hear the crowds begin murmuring amongst themselves again but I ignore it and turn my attention completely to Cleo. “Are you okay?” I ask her, my voice sounding a lot softer and far more sincere than usual.

           Cleo stares at me with wide eyes, confusion written across her face. She opens her mouth but no words escape. With slow, deliberate movements, I step forwards towards her; I raise my hand to touch her face but she flinches backwards with such fear that I immediately drop my hand back to my side. I try not to feel stung by her actions, of course she’ll feel scared of me, as far as she knows I’m an aloof princess who has no compassion within her.

           “Stay away from her,” a voice growls. I spin round and rest my eyes on the Dark Knight. Unlike Cleo, he’s struggling against the guards that constrain him, his face a little flushed from the exertion of fighting against the unrelenting grip of the soldiers. The slash on his cheek, a violent red.

           His voice surprises me a little; he sounds older and gruffer than I always imagined. Looking at his face I realise that he’s older than I thought too, he must at least be my age, if not older, maybe nearly twenty. “What?” I ask eventually, realising that silence has now consumed the area. 

           “Don’t talk to the princess in that way,” one of the soldiers grunts, sending his fist into the Dark Knight’s stomach. Although I do feel a little slighted by the sharp tone of the Dark Knight’s voice, I still wince slightly at the impact of the punch.

           “No, don’t punch him,” I say quickly. The soldiers all turn to shot quizzical looks at me, I think for a second before realising that with those four words I have completely contradicted the argument we had just been having. I pull my princess superiority with the soldiers yet if a common citizen - no, a thief - talks disrespectfully towards me, I ask for no punishment to be performed upon him. 

           Another round of whispers ripple through the crowd around us but I ignore them. “Of course, princess,” Flinard says, his voice bitterly sweet. “Step away from the boy, Henderson,” he grunts to the baffled looking soldier who had just slammed his fist into the Dark Knight’s stomach. 

           Although he now only has one guard to tackle, the Dark Knight stands still, frowning at me. “What’re you doing?” he asks. He speaks quietly but I hear him clearly in the silence that has overcome the market area. 

           “What am I doing?” I repeat, incredulously. “I’m protecting your sister, I’m helping he--” 

           “We’re playing a game,” a familiar voice calls out from behind me, interrupting my speech. I slowly turn to examine the handsome face belonging to the voice. Indigo stands a few metres away from me, the crowd around him parted in awe. This must be an absolutely rare piece of excitement for them; not only have they got me - the unstable, unseen princess -, they now also have Indigo - the wild, desired lord. One glance at the soldiers shows their dumbfound looks. All of them trying to understand what all the fuss is about. 

          “Greetings to Lord Indigo Kelken,” the soldiers mumble, their voices overlapping messily. A rather poor show compared to my greeting, though I did have to remind them to greet me.

          “Greetings gentlemen,” Indigo grins, sweeping out an exaggerated bow. “I hope you’re taking good care of my princess.” He quickly lunges forward and pulls me into an embrace. I try to resist but coming from a family of rowers has certainly made his muscles far stronger and more resistant than my own. 

          “Of course we are,” Flinard reports, his voice losing it’s malicious edge now that Indigo has appeared. “It is our job to look after the little princess.”

           I feel Indigo’s arms tense around me, making sure I won’t fight my way out. Flinard’s words have triggered a hot, prickling sensation to start spreading over my checks. ‘Little princess.’ I hate people who speak about me as though I’m a baby.

            “I’m glad to hear that, I wouldn’t want her beautiful face getting scratched up,” Indigo says with a light laugh. I wonder how many people can hear the edge of a challenge beneath his mellow tone.

            Considering the amount of laughter from the soldiers, I’d say no one. 

            Slowly, Indigo relaxes his arms and allows me to step out to view the atmosphere he has created. Instead of the edgy, irritated mood I had formed, everything now feels smooth and rather relaxed; Indigo’s good like that.

           After a polite amount of laughter Flinard speaks again, “You say you were playing a game?” he asks Indigo, completely ignoring my scowl. 

           “Yeah and my girl just won,” Indigo replies smoothly, a grin lighting up his face. “So we better be getting back to classes before we get in trouble.” Before I realise what’s happening, Indigo has lead me half way through the crowd and back towards the palace. 

            “No, I can’t,” I exclaim, struggling my way out of Indigo’s grip. “I have to… I have to…”

            Indigo’s face smiles down at me patiently though his eyes glint with irritation. “You have to do what, darling?” he asks. I don’t reply; I’ve already failed, whatever I was going to do to help Cleo has failed. Whatever small plan I had has gone completely wrong because I can’t control my temper. An emotion that looks close to victory lights up Indigo’s face and he puts his arm back round me. “Whatever it is, you should do it after class. Miss Johnson already hates me, I don’t particularly want to be late to her class again!”

           I take one last look back towards Cleo and the Dark Knight but the crowd has already swallowed them up, cutting me off and reminding me just how far away from their world I am and always will be.

                                                                              -*-

The rest of day continues in a more regular pattern. 

           After walking me to class, Indigo arranges to meet me later, anger obvious on his face. He walks away without saying anymore, skipping class again and leaving me to face the disapproving looks of the fellow pupils, alone. 

           I take my time getting to the classroom door, a sense of dread already spreading through my bones. I haven’t been to class in over two weeks and I know for a fact that we have some project due in soon. Danina, my cousin and closest friend, mentioned it a couple of days ago at dinner. 

          I realise that I have been staring at the classroom door for an abnormal amount of time now; I have got to stop putting off going to class. With a sudden burst of courage, I open the door and step into the classroom. The class falls silent and begin staring at me. I ignore them and stalk straight to my seat at the back, next to Danina. 

           It doesn’t surprise me that my seat’s still empty. No one dares to sit near Danina, let alone next to her. She isn’t a nasty person, quite the opposite in fact, she’s just a little shy and it’s the shyness that can sometimes bring out her defensive side. 

          When she sees me, her eyes light up and her face breaks into a smile. The smile creates two, large dimples in her pale, freckled cheeks. Unlike the other students in the class, all sons and daughters of minor royals (the lords and ladies), Danina’s hair hasn’t been styled at all; it hangs in dirty-blonde strands at uneven, messy lengths down her back. She isn’t a stunning beauty but I think she’s perfect.

          I grin back, my agitation beginning to calm. It’s not often that people are happy to see me. 

          Sliding into my seat, I continue to ignore the class even though they’ve now erupted into murmuring conversations which, no doubt, are about me. “Hello,” Danina smiles to me, placing her pen down onto her notes.  “Where have you been?” 

           Before I can answer, miss Johnson stomps over and slams a large pile of notes onto the desk in front of me. “Ah, miss Clear, what a pleasure it is to see you again. Thank you so much for gracing us with a little of your precious time,” she hisses a little manically. I stare at her silently for a few seconds, wondering why she feels the need to use so much exaggerated sarcasm.

          After a short pause, I pick up the piece of paper lying at the top of the pile. “Are these the notes that I missed?” I ask, mildly, my tone sounding completely indifferent. 

          “Yes,” miss Johnson confirms, her eyebrows twitching into a frown as she tries to keep her temper controlled. “And before you leave today I want all of them copied up.”

           I raise my eyebrows but don’t respond. I know that if I open my mouth I’ll only argue with her and that will just cause more gossip for the class. “Please may I borrow a pen, Danina?” I ask, turning away from miss Johnson to show her that our conversation is over. 

          Danina plucks a pen from her large, green pencil case. I love the colour of her pencil case; it reminds me of grass in the Summer. It’s one of those colours that fills you with a little bit of warmth. Much like Danina.

           With a smile to say thank you, I take the pen from Danina and begin to copy out the notes. I vaguely notice miss Johnson sigh before stomping back to the front of the class and restarting her lesson. 

           As soon as she’s gone, Danina begins questioning me. “Why did you come to class today?” she whispers. I keep my eyes on the notes, slowly copying out every word. 

          In the year 2043 a new brand of drug was introduced to society. The Elatants. Drugs genetically engineered to provide a safe cure for any type of illness. 

          “I had to, Indigo walked me here,” I reply, my eyes not straying from the black squiggles that I have scrawled across the light yellow page.

          They worked so well and were so easy to obtain that most people had tried them. Illness levels across the planet were down by such drastic percentages that different types of the drug began to be produced.

          “Oh,” Danina says and I can hear the confusion in her voice. “Since when did you do what Indigo asks?” 

           Three types of Elatants were originally produced. Flawless. Vivacity. And Fulfilment. The three aimed to improve different parts of everyday life.

          “Since he’s already really angry at me and anyway, I haven’t been here in a while. I thought you may all be missing me,” I answer, a sarcastic smile twitching at my lips. 

          Flawless aimed to improve the physical aspects of a persons body. Vivacity aimed to improve the health aspects of a persons body. Fulfilment aimed to improve a persons mood and steady a persons emotions.

          “He’s angry with you? Why?” she hisses, a sudden worry in her voice.

          Then a fourth was made. Paradise. It was supposed to control the heart and the way you felt about a certain person, however --

          “Astrid,” Danina cries, quietly. She grabs my arm and forces me to turn and face her. “What’s happened?”

          “Nothing,” I shrug. “He just overreacted about something, I don’t really know why he’s angry. He’ll probably tell you later anyway, then you can inform me all about it and I can apologise. Everything will be fine,” I snap, sarcasm dripping from my words. I hate it when Danina worries about me.

          I pull my arm out of Danina’s grip, feeling bad for speaking so harshly to her but knowing she’ll forgive me more or less straight away. Shaking all guilty thoughts from my head, I concentrate back on the text in front of me, scanning my eyes over the history of our country.

         It’s supposedly historically accurate but other than the brief description of the drugs, it’s just lies. Apparently Paradise was tested thousands of times with positive results before being produced and killing the world. Apparently the survivors were lead through the worst years by a strong, fair ruler - Jason Clear. Apparently the royals rule this land, England, with such majestic power that no one would ever want to upset their system.

          Every child is taught this from the moment they enter school. Every child is misled. The society is lied to.

          Our society is built on lies.

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