Dragon Day

A princess that's not a lady. A king that's not a gentleman. And a wedding that does not go according to plan.

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10. Masks and Midnight

Masks and Midnight

 

                Melaina’s room was frilly. It was the only word that was suitable. The entire room looked reminded of the mornings after a blizzard, white and shimmering. The four-poster bed had white silk blankets. Everywhere she looked she saw nothing but sterile white. There wasn’t a dash of color anywhere. She settled her nerves by telling herself that they were only going to be there for a day, not any longer.

                The curtains of the room fluttered with even the slightest hint of the warm wind that blew through the entire island. It was another difference from her home. Lor was warm in the summer, but never the kind of heat that Collyria saw. The sun in Collyria was unrelenting, the heat sustained even into the darkness part of the night. Her covers were sticky with sweat, preventing her from any chance of sleep.

                She knew that the entire manor would be asleep except for the occasional guards. It was the way things worked in the villages. Early to bed and earlier to rise, it was one of her father’s philosophies and definitely not hers. She lived for the night. She reasoned it was because of her love for sneaking out, the darkness offered the best shelter. She also had better night vision than anyone she knew.

                It was a new moon and there wasn’t a single guard along the corridors. Melaina reveled in the peace and the silence. Collyria, although stifling warm, was still a beautiful place. The light from the flickering torches turned the corridor in a mirage of orange and black. Water flowed from a little brook in a garden outside the corridor. The garden was beautiful, filled with parsimmon and rhodanthemum flowers. Its little gurgles reached her ears only after a few seconds. She leaned on to one of the alabaster columns and closed her eyes.

                The smell of fresh air almost overpowered everything at first. Slowly, she sensed the smell of burning oil from the torches, the smell of ripe mangoes from the garden, and finally the smell of perfume. It was a perfume that she had never come across before, and considering the experimentation her mother did with such things, she was surprised.

                More like incense than perfume, she took a deep breath of the intoxicating smell. It was only slightly smoky, deep and sweet, like someone had mixed potent herbs with fragrances of flowers to produce a divine elixir. All she felt was tranquility as she breathed in more and more, until she opened her eyes.

                As she slowly opened her eyes she found the source of her intoxication, a small crystal bottle with swirls of smoke emerging from its small opening. The wisps of smoke materialized into loops as she watched, coming closer and closer to her. Something white passed next to her, and she took her eyes off the bottle.

                The billowing white of a night gown disappeared around the corner as she glanced away from the bottle. But her trance was broken. By the time she looked in front again it was gone. The smell, the smoke, everything was gone.

                From the corridor she heard a heavy thud. She heard the sounds of a struggle and ran towards it. She was unarmed and she hoped it wouldn’t be a problem. Rounding the corner she saw a man hunched over a woman on the ground. He was facing away from her. She knew he hadn’t heard her footsteps, and stealthily crept up to him.

                Before he could hear the sound of her shallow breathing, she elbowed him in the head. He turned around with wide eyes as he fell on to the ground next to the woman. Alex. His eyes shut suddenly and Melaina prayed she hadn’t done permanent damage. The girl on the ground stirred uneasily, and Melaina shook her by the shoulders.

                Her eyelids snapped open to reveal two soft green eyes. After looking right and left like a frightened deer, her eyes finally fixed on Melaina. Melaina recognized them immediately, identical to those of Lord Nathaniel.

                “Excuse me,” the girl whispered. Without another word she got up and rand past Melaina. Melaina entertained the thought of following her. The girl constantly tripped over her night gown, looking back in fear. She wasn’t a threat, and she definitely knew her way around the manor, not an intruder.

                Melaina brought her attention back to the unconscious Alex. She considered leaving him there. It was tempting, but considering his suspicions and his obvious distaste for her, she decided it would be best not to anger him further.

                She got a pitcher of water from her room and sprinkled drops onto his face. He didn’t wake up, and she was starting to feel drowsy. She decided she could irritate him a little. After the pitcher was upside down and Alex shot up spluttering with drenched hair, she put on an apologetic face.

                “Wha-?” he asked, looking at the empty pitcher in her hand. She placed it on the ground and smiled. “How did I get here?”

                “I… don’t know,” she lied. It seemed that luck was on her side. She wasn’t going to mess with anything. “I was walking around and I found you here. You weren’t waking up, so I had to use the pitcher.”

                He shook the water out of his hair and gave her a smile.

                “I know you better than that,” he commented. “You probably used that pitcher to knock me out and to wake me up.”

                “I didn’t,” Melaina answered.

                “Fine.”

                “Good night,” she said tersely. She heard him groan as he got up but ignored the sounds. She entered her room and fell onto the soft bed. The warmth of Collyria didn’t bother her anymore.

***

                Alex rubbed the back of his head. He knew that Melaina had lied to him. But he was too tired to investigate. He fell onto his bed and slept, trying to forget the throbbing in the back of his head. When he woke up it was late in the morning. He heard the clinking of metal and turned around. Melaina was sitting in the couch eating fruit while a maid made her tea.

                “Good morning,” she said. “It’s good to see you’re finally up. When I came in I thought you were dead.”

                He touched the back of his head. The pain was better, almost gone. He saw that the maid kept a few feet away from the Melaina while she worked. As he ran his hand through his hair he noticed it was oiled. Melaina gazed at the maid and with a flick of her wrist signaled for her to leave the room. The maid followed her orders with her head bowed.

                “The maid did it,” she said. She had walked into his room early in the morning and saw that his head bore a visible bump where she had elbowed him. She told the maid to call a masseur to massage it with oil, and came back later to find the girl doing it on her own. She was also crooning things into the sleeping man’s ear. After giving her an earful of the dirtiest of a sailor’s language, she had sent the crying girl off to fetch them breakfast. Touching Alex’s hair, the maid had obviously breached boundaries. “By the way, did you have to wake up so late? I told everyone that we were having breakfast in your room to plan our travel. It’s not good for the soldiers to think their leader is a lazy ass who wanted to sleep in.”

                “You told them we were having breakfast together? Alone? Are you insane? People will make assumptions, think about the rumors,” he said. “People talk, Mel.”

                “Did you just call me Mel?” she asked. He thought for a second and nodded. He had picked it up from Davie, who he thought talked far too much. “Alright… And as to them making assumptions, don’t be ridiculous. No one’s imagination is that wild, and if it is, Davie will put an end to it.”

                “Well, how do you suppose we proceed?”

                “I suggest we stock our ship with enough supplies for a couple of days and sail around the island to get to the mountain.”

                “Wouldn’t it just be easier to go through the forest?” he asked.

                “The forest is too dangerous,” she answered. “It’s the Captain’s suggestion that we avoid the forest and take the sea route.”

                “The Captain…” Alex said. “Is an old man. All that walking through the forest probably didn’t set well with him. We have two dozen excellent soldiers. I think they can handle a bit of hiking.”

                “It wasn’t about the terrain, Alex,” she informed him. “There was something in that forest. The Captain was afraid of it. It turned his crew against one another. He says they were lucky to get out with their lives.”

                Alex shook his head. Going by the ocean would take too long. He knew Dain was probably dead. But he finally had a chance to save Dain’s life, like Dain had saved his. He wouldn’t waste another three days on the ocean when the mountain was just a day’s trek across a forest.

                “No, no, we’re going by walk.”

                “Fine,” she answered. He would realize his folly, and she would have to find a way to get them out without losing any lives. She got up from the table and left. The maid was waiting outside the door.

                “What are you still doing here?” she snapped. The girl shook her head weakly and let out a tiny whimper before running off. She didn’t like the girl. She clearly saw that the girl was infatuated with Alex. He had a dark and brooding air to him that some girls would find attractive. He walked with confidence and a discipline instilled by years of training. His clothes were always immaculate. It was something that she had noticed on the ship. Even after vomiting the contents of an entire three-course meal, his shirt had somehow remained unwrinkled. His eyes were the deepest of blue, and he often spent his time observing the thing around him. He didn’t look at things with an aimless daydreaming look, but with a look that aimed to find out the secrets behind every face and every closed window.

                She stopped thinking after realizing how much she had observed Alex. Her room was right in front of her. She packed a few of her things into a bag to put on Edel and went off to find the Captain.

                He wasn’t in the manor, instead choosing to stay in one of the cottages near the shore. The cottage was a single room, containing only a small bed, a table in a corner, and a few chairsIn the small hut he sat at the window whittling. He was making a miniature of the Beast, carving out the fine details with his wrinkled hands. It was something that he didn’t tell his crew, a hobby he viewed to be too soft for his hard reputation.

                “I need to talk to you,” she began.

                “Let me guess, that Felucca boy wanted to go through the forest,” he finished for her.

                “Yes.”

                “Well, time to reveal your secret weapon,” he answered. He walked to the corner of the room towards the table. He ripped off the tablecloth to reveal a giant trunk underneath. He pulled it out quickly and opened it.

                Melaina leaned in, curious to see the big secret. The trunk contained mostly hay, but there were a few small metal balls placed in a grid on top. She saw that two were already missing from the corner. The Captain took out another two and placed them on the table.

                She took one in her hand and fingered its ridged surface. The one protrusion was a holder with a small pin placed in it. She wondered what the pin was for and reached her hand to pull it out. The Captain slapped her finger away.

                “Wait,” he ordered. He grabbed the metal ball out of her hand and placed it gently on to the table.

                “These are weapons that I got from those Gargonians,” he said. “They called the things grenades. I’m giving you two, one to use as a warning. Threaten them with this if they turn on you, and lead them out of the forest. You pull the pin and throw the grenade onto the ground to create a strong explosion. Throw them far if you don’t want to get hurt.”

                “How strong are these things?”

                “Stronger than any cannon.”

                “And you haven’t shown these to my father because?” she asked.

                “I don’t think that any king should get his hands on these,” he answered. “The power they give, it could corrupt anyone. The Gargonians died because of them, I didn’t want to think of Lor facing the same fate.”

                Melaina decided she would tell her father. Power was something she yearned for, but she convinced herself that power wasn’t the reason. The grenades would help them if the Feluccans decided to declare war. She pocketed the two grenades and bid him farewell, walking back to the village very carefully.

                Alex saw her walking back to the manor uneasily. He sprinted out of his room to ask about the night before. Before he could reach her he saw her heading in another direction with Benjamin. He followed them silently, hiding behind the columns and trying to get close enough to hear their conversation.

                He managed to pick up only some words. It was of course, about Lord Nathaniel. Melaina kept her hands in her pockets as Benjamin talked about how their beloved Lord Nathaniel was a very sickly person, since the days of his childhood. He said that despite this he managed to rule Collyria well, with the help of his loyal staff. She stopped by her room for a second, and then followed Benjamin again.

                She was escorted into a bedroom. Alex didn’t know how to follow. When they weren’t looking he hid behind one of the curtains in the room. The person on the bed was cocooned by blankets, so much that even their face was partly hidden. Benjamin called out slowly, and the person slowly pushed back the blankets.

                In a strange rasping voice, he said, “My apologies, your highness. We were not able to meet sooner.”

                “It’s quite alright,” Melaina answered. Even as Lord Nathaniel spoke to her, he kept his face half-hidden. She moved towards his bedside and took a seat there. Alex watched as she slowly ran her hand over Lord Nathaniel’s forehead, pushing back the light brown hair.

                They were the same eyes. As Lord Nathaniel saw her and her eyes widened, she realized that Lord Nathaniel was the girl from the night before. She was the girl in the nightgown.

                “You’re the girl from yesterday night,” she said.

                “What girl?” Benjamin asked nervously.

                “Stop Benjamin,” she warned. Before the guards at the door could react, before Benjamin had even noticed, she pulled out the dagger in her boot and held it at the imposter’s throat. She knew it was probably overkill, but she had brought Manny along, and he had fangs pointed at the girl’s throat. He would never bite, but Melaina thought he enjoyed the occasional display of power. “I have had enough of your lies.”

                “Please, your highness, we’ll tell you,” the girl said. After Melaina moved her dagger to an inch away from her throat she continued, “I’m Nathaniel’s sister, Neema.”

                “So, you usurped your brother’s position?”

                “Nothing of the sort, your highness. My brother really was a very sick person. He always fell ill, and the sickness grew more severe after he started ruling Collyria. Two years ago he died. None of the natives will trust a foreigner to rule them. I didn’t want my people to serve under a stranger. Neither did Benjamin, or any of my brother’s staff. So, we decided that I would replace Nathaniel.”

                “How long was this going to last?”

                “Indefinitely,” she answered. “I don’t have to pretend often, only when our island has visitors. I can rule better than my brother could. If you hadn’t seen me last night, everything would’ve continued perfectly.”

                “What do you think will happen now?” Melaina asked, putting her dagger back into her boot, and letting Manny wind around her arm.

                “I would be charged with treason, perhaps exiled,” the girl said. “One of your trusted men will rule Collyria.”

                “No,” Melaina replied. “Everything will continue, just as it was. Except you won’t have to hide anymore. I will talk to my father about this and I’m sure that he will agree with me. Besides, I’m indebted to you.”

                “What do you mean?”

                “Thanks to you, I had an opportunity to hit someone that really needed to be hit,” Melaina said with a smile.

                “So it was you!” Alex cried, stepping out from behind the curtain.

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