Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


2. 2

~~William didn’t want to greet the king. He didn’t even want to see him. He figured it would be best to just head straight to the training grounds and avoid Nicholas altogether. However, he somehow found himself standing on the steps that led to the entrance hall, watching for him.
Gabriella stood in the doorway with an eager expression. It was clear she couldn’t wait to see her brother. William felt a little guilty for disliking the guy so much when this girl seemed to think the world of him. Something about the king just irked him.
Her smile brightening was the first sign of his arrival. “You’re home!”
“Indeed, I am.” Nicholas replied as he entered. He wrapped his arms around the girl and lifted her off the ground, giving her a spin and making her laugh. “I daresay you have gotten bigger.”
“You haven’t been gone that long.” She informed him as her feet touched the ground again.
As William watched the pair, his feelings towards Nicholas softened a little. Here was a man who loved his sister and wasn’t afraid to show it. He didn’t seem nearly so pompous as William first thought and he realized he might have been too harsh in his initial judgment.
“Welcome home, my lord.” Katherine’s voice came through just before she entered the hall. William hadn’t thought she could be more beautiful, but he was wrong. She had fixed her hair so it was away from her face and flowed down her back and shoulders in shining curls. She wore an elegant, blue gown. He wondered how she had changed her hair and outfit in so little time.
Nicholas seemed stunned by her appearance as he released his sister and smiled at the guardian. “My lady, I’m glad to see you arrived safely.”
“I could say the same for you.” She walked over and hugged him.
He wrapped his arms around her, looking quite content in that position. “I’m glad to be back.”
William took back his kind thoughts on the king, deciding that he was definitely pompous and they would never be able to get along. With that in mind, he turned to sneak back up to his room, not wanting to watch any more of that scene. However, he ran into Tristan, who was also watching in silence. William wondered when the elf had shown up and why he hadn’t heard him, but he saw the steely gaze Tristan had fixed on the king and he decided not to ask. “I guess it didn’t take him long to deal with the monsters.”
“It would appear not.” Tristan commented in a monotone.
William paused, feeling some sympathy for the heartsick elf, but wishing he didn’t. It would be so much easier to just hate him. He was trying to figure out what he should do next when he heard Nicholas call out to him.
“We met before, didn’t we?” The king asked with a smile.
William took a breath and turned to face him, trying to seem cheerful. “Yes, when our group was travelling.”
Nicholas nodded and looked to the elf. “It is always nice to see you, Tristan.”
“And you, as well, your highness.” His tone was tight, but gave nothing away of his feelings.
“Well, now that we are all back, we should sit together and catch up.” He looked back to Katherine with a smile. “Don’t you think that would be nice?”
“It sounds fun.” William spoke quickly. “However, I was just on my way to the training grounds. You know I can’t keep Valda waiting.”
“Lights above forbid.” Nicholas wore an amused smile. “Well, I guess it will just be Tristan and us. I’m sure we’ll still have plenty to talk about.”
William looked back at Tristan and realized he was gripping the bannister rather tightly. Before he had time to think about it, William found himself speaking, again. “Actually, Tristan promised to come with me. He thought he may be able to give me a few pointers.” He looked back to Katherine and Nicholas. “Please don’t tell Valda, though.”
Tristan looked at him, trying to figure out the boy’s thoughts.
“Still in that competition, then.” The king noted.
“Well, I’m just glad you two are getting along.” Katherine added.
“Right.” William looked back to Tristan. “I guess we should get going, now. Come on if you’re coming.” He headed down the steps and out the door, not waiting to see if the elf followed. He wasn’t even sure he had until Tristan grabbed his arm.
“What was that about?” The elf demanded.
William sighed. “I don’t know.” He pulled his arm away. “You don’t have to come with me. I just figured you wouldn’t want to be in a room with those two any longer than you had to and I just said the first thing that came to mind.” He looked at the elf and felt his usual annoyance simmering up. “I didn’t think it would be right to let your sour mood ruin their lovely reunion.”
Tristan paused, seeming to think the answer over. “Fair enough. You should get to your training. We all know you need it.”
“Right.” William turned to walk away, not wanting to talk to the elf anymore. However, he soon realized Tristan was following him and he turned back to face him. “What are you doing?”
“You told our lady I was going with you and I wouldn’t want to contribute to lying to her.” Tristan replied, simply.
William stared at him, scarcely believing what he had heard. “You’re planning to come watch me train?”
“I’m supposed to give you advice, am I not?” If it had been anyone else, William might have thought it was a joke.
“She wouldn’t know it was a lie.” William tried to assure him.
“I do not lie to our lady.” Tristan’s tone was firm and left no room for argument.
William gave a resigned sigh and resumed walking. “Whatever.”

“You sure you don’t want to go see the king?” Jake asked as he and his brother headed back to their room. “I’m sure Gabriella wouldn’t mind having you around for a while longer.”
Henry shook his head. “Let her have some time with her brother. I don’t want to interrupt that. I imagine it was hard for them to be separated like that.”
“Right.” Jake had never been apart from his brother for more than a few hours. When they were in the foster system, it had been a constant fear that they might be put into different homes. It was part of the reason they had run away. “Well, I’m sure you will have plenty of time to spend with your princess. There’s no telling how long we’ll be here.”
“She’s not my princess.” Henry replied, not looking at his brother.
Jake smiled at him. “Well, she could be. Just give it some time. I’m sure you’ll win her over with your ever-charming, social awkwardness.”
“And what would be the point of that?” His brother asked.
“Well, you could have a beautiful romance and live happily ever after.” Jake answered, not really understanding the negativity radiating off his twin.
“Happily ever after?” Henry suddenly stopped walking. “How do you see that working out?”
Jake turned to him, maintaining his smile. “What do you mean?”
Henry sighed and shrugged. “Do we even really belong in this world? Assuming we even survive, we might not be able to stay here and it’s not like I can take her home with me.”
“You want to go back?” Jake stared at him, surprised by the idea. He didn’t really see any reason to return to their shabby apartment where they were always on the run from social workers.
“I don’t know.” Henry ran a hand through his hair. “I know we didn’t have much back then, but it all made sense. Maybe, we would be better off there.”
“I thought you decided to stay.” Jake moved closer, trying to read his brother’s thoughts.
“I did.” Henry rushed to assure him. “I intend to stay here until we’ve done whatever we’re supposed to do. It’s just that I’m not really sure what happens afterwards.”
Jake considered that and put an arm around his twin’s shoulders. “Well, no need to worry about that, now. We’ll just take it one day at a time like we always have, right?”
Henry gave him a skeptical look. “Isn’t that an alcoholics anonymous saying?”
“Nonsense. It’s just some of my incredible wisdom.” Jake steered him forward. “If you continue being negative, I will have to come up with more brilliant sayings.”
“Please don’t.” Henry begged, smiling a little as he walked down the hallway to their room.

Valda glared as she saw Tristan walking behind William. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m just here to observe.” The elf replied, leaning against a wall. “Don’t mind me.”
Valda looked at William, expectantly, waiting for him to provide a more satisfactory explanation.
“Please, don’t ask.” He begged, drawing his sword. “Can we just train?”
She looked back to Tristan. “Keep your mouth shut.”
He was silent, not interested in responding.
Valda continued to glare at him for another moment before she turned her back to the elf and faced William. “Take your stance and we’ll begin.”

Meredith and Josie returned to the palace after having lunch. They figured they should check in with everyone. They had seen the king and his men returning, so they wanted to find out how he was, as well.
“Did you have fun with your new friends?” Meredith asked.
Josie nodded. “They were nice.” She looked up at Meredith. “But I still like my regular friends better?”
The older girl couldn’t help smiling. “That’s good to know.” As they walked, she looked towards the wall which surrounded the building. She was glad for how safe the wall kept them and the others within it, but she found it a little unsettling to think that everyone had to stay inside the wall. It almost made the place seem like a really nice prison. As she looked around, she wondered how many of the citizens had ever been outside the city.
“Is something wrong?” Josie asked, looking up at her.
Meredith smiled back at the girl and gave her hand a squeeze. “Of course not. I was just thinking about what an interesting place this is.”
“I like it, too.” Josie smiled, brightly, glancing around, as well. “It would be fun if we could stay here, wouldn’t it?”
“I guess.” Meredith didn’t like the idea of spending the rest of her life inside a big wall, but she wasn’t going to complain when the others seemed so happy there. When they reached the palace, they found the staff hard at work, clearly excited to make sure everything was fixed up for the king, since he had returned.
Meredith found Gregory among the group and smiled as she walked over to him since he was the only familiar face in the room. “Everybody seems busy.”
“Indeed, they are.” He replied, watching over them. Now and then, he would give someone directions. He smiled at Meredith. “Our lady is in the sitting room with his highness and the princess. I’m sure they would be glad to have you join them. All your friends seemed to have found other things to do.”
Meredith found it interesting that he hadn’t used any names in the sentence. It was strange to hear people talk like that, but she decided not to comment. “Thank you.” She figured he probably had a lot of work to do, although it struck her as odd that they would care so much about the king’s homecoming when he couldn’t have been gone much more than a week. She just chalked it up to more of the differences between Asheville and Mirra.
Still holding Josie’s hand, Meredith headed toward the sitting room, not sure where else to go. She knocked on the door and Katherine called for her to come in, so she obeyed.
“Meredith, you’re back.” Katherine smiled brightly when she saw her. She was sitting in a chair, facing the couch, on which, sat Nicholas and Gabriella. Meredith hadn’t met the princess, but Jake had talked about her and it was easy enough to guess who she was.

“We were just out visiting the orphanage.” Meredith told her.
“So I’ve heard.” Katherine replied, causing Meredith to wonder where she had heard about it.
“News travels fast in the Domed City.” She commented, taking a seat on another couch so Josie could sit beside her. She nodded to the king and his sister, not really comfortable with the idea of bowing, particularly to a couple of teenagers. “It’s nice to see you again, Nicholas.”
“You, as well.” He smiled at her. “We didn’t really get much of a chance to talk last time.”
“Yeah, we were pretty busy trying to get here and you had some monsters to fight, so…” Meredith shrugged and looked to the princess. “You must be Gabriella. Jake mentioned meeting you.”
She smiled and nodded. “He and his brother are quite an interesting pair.”
At that comment, Meredith couldn’t hold back an amused grin. “That’s one word for it, I guess.” She looked down at Josie, who was staring at the princess with wide eyes. Meredith realized it was probably a big deal to the child that they were talking to a real-life princess. She gave Gabriella another look and decided that her golden curls, blue eyes and elegant gown made her a picture-perfect princess. Any child would be thinking the same thing.
“So Katherine was telling me a little about Dunya.” Nicholas told her. “It sounds like a crazy place.”
Meredith nodded, turning her attention to him. “It’s not so bad if you grow up in it. Mirra seems crazy to us.”
“Fair enough.” The king nodded. “I suppose that rule would apply to any of the realms. I hope you haven’t found our land to be too unpleasant, though.”
“Well, the constant danger on our way here was a little off-putting.” Meredith commented. “However, the city has been really nice. The people here seem pleasant, as far as I have seen, at least.”
“I’ve always loved this city, but I grew up here and there is no place like home, I suppose.” Nicholas replied.
“Right.” Meredith didn’t feel the need to explain that she never had much in the way of a home, so she couldn’t really understand the sentiment. “I look forward to seeing more of this city.”
“Hopefully, you will be staying with us for a while.” Gabriella smiled and looked at Josie. “We are very happy to have all of you.”
The child gave a nervous giggle, making Meredith smile and decide she could probably get along with the princess. She looked at the girl. “We’re happy to be here. I look forward to getting to know you better.”
Gabriella looked back at her and nodded. “That sounds nice.”
“Well, it has been nice seeing you, again.” Nicholas commented as he stood. “Now, I should go and talk to Jeremiah. I’m sure he will be eager to hear my report.”
Katherine nodded and stood, as well. “I’ll leave you to your manly talk.” She looked at the others. “Perhaps, it will be nice to spend some time with the girls.”
Nicholas gave her an amused smile. “I will see you at dinner, if not before, my lady.”
“I look forward to it, my lord.” She replied and he headed out to speak to the other guardian.
“So what shall we do with our girl time?” Meredith asked, looking at the guardian.
Katherine looked to Gabriella and smiled. “Have you been keeping up with your archery practice?”

William hit the soft grass of the training ground on his back and grunted, but he wasn’t particularly upset because he’d beat his previous best time for holding his own against his teacher. He stood and dusted himself off, ready to go again.
“I see you’re improving.” Katherine commented, making him aware that she had stepped onto the training grounds.
He turned to looked and saw that her hair was pulled back out of her face and she wore a blue tunic with gray pants. Meredith, Josie and Gabriella were dressed similarly. All four carried bows. Josie’s was a small one, which had clearly been made for children. The other three had recurve bows. He smiled. “Come for some practice?”
“It seemed like a fun way to pass the time.” Meredith replied.
“Katherine’s going to show me how to use a bow!” Josie announced.
“Well, that does sound fun.” William told her. He was suddenly glad that Tristen had come with him to train, since he didn’t want to be caught in a lie. It was almost worth dealing with Tristan wearing his sour expression and watching William train.
She looked to the elf and smiled. “Enjoying yourself?”
“Not particularly.” His tone was short. He had been watching William’s training for the sake of avoiding a lie, but he hadn’t found it entertaining and he had been considering leaving before the guardian showed up.
“Well, I would invite you to join us, but it’s girls only.” Katherine told him, leading the other three over to the targets for practice.
William couldn’t help staring after her until Valda told him to focus and he was forced to focus on his training again.

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