My cheeks were strangely warm as I tried to prop myself over the window. As far as that was going, I was not doing very well. The humiliation was plastered against my forehead and I was set on the idea that I could not.
Zephina beckoned for me to come, her black scarf that should have been wrapped to cover her face, ran wild with the blasts of the wind. Assessing what I was to climb, the fear grew stronger. A towering wall of stone running thrice the height of myself, was set with a small iron shuttered window and a peering Stranger.
“It’s too high.” I said hands above my head. Yes I was giving up. As Zephina said giving up was sweet.
“SHUT UP! SOMEONES COMING GET THE HELL UP HERE OR YOU WILL GET YOUR SORRY ARSE CAUGHT.” Sneered Zephina in a loud sort of stage whisper.
I sighed, “If I fall, burn me next to Leila.”
As quickly as I possibly could, I faced my fears and pushed myself up onto the first foot hole. It all went well until the last inch underneath the window shutter. My heart was pacing, relief ready to radiate out of me. But the bricks where wet and I made the wrong move, slipping to my what I thought was death. I was ready then. In the moment that followed, my whole life raced straight past me and the sadness followed. I didn’t know my whole life. I would die in forgetfulness.
But then Zephina leaned over the railing and stretched her allreadly long arms as long as possible gripping my hand before I was to fall and pulling me up beside her. I slumped on the stone floor in utter shock, I would never do that again. Never. If the fear and the panting and the shock was what you felt after doing something that dangerous, no, never again.
Shaking my head from all of the previous experience, I changed back to the thought of a future.
“Where is the... the guard?” Zephina stared at me blankly and then the realisation clicked. Instead of looking worried she burst into a fit of laughter.
“You fell for that?” She snorted in a pig like manner, skin a deep hue of pink, “You... You were sooo scared
“Shut up. I could have died,” I blurted out, not in the mood for such a prank but she continued to splutter and snort. How could I have fell for such a stupid joke.
“What died? It’s only that,” she put her hands together to form the size of a dessert tomato,” that... small.”
I crossed my arms and in defence at which point she finally noticed I was not laughing. “Oh stop acting like an old woman. It was just a joke.”
“Friends make jokes to each other. We, we are not friends.”
Zephina continued to laugh, “Well then Amara, I make you my friend.”
Not thinking straight with red clouds staining my vision, I jerked forward to push her back out through the steep window. She simply stopped me with the tip of her smallest finger and continued to laugh. Yes she had way too many mood swings.
But was she being serious when she said I was her friend. I honestly didn’t know what to think. The obvious fact was that I should not be tieing myself down with her, she was simply someone to lead the way, she owed me and then she will leave.
Just as I was about to ask her what exactly she ment to say by that phrase, the sound of actual footsteps caught my ear. I put my finger on my lips but she simply continued to laugh, obviously not taking me seriously.
And it was when the guard walked into the room and Zephina stood ashstrooken and lost did I begin to laugh. It was terribly funny at the time, seeing I was right and she was wrong but the laughter was quickly stifled when Zephina nudged me hard in the ribcage. I rubbed my hand against the soreness and took the time to get a better look at the guard.
The guard was surprisingly a young woman dressed in loose tunics, pants and a short dagger in a callused right hand. She stared at us as if lost as what to do at first but quickly regained an air of authority. She must have been a trainee, not much experience.
It would have been scandalous in the village nearest to my inn for a woman to be a soldier or take up such a position. But the times must have been changing and I welcomed such a change. Women could fight just as well as men; Zephina was a prime example.
Zephina walked forward with a smile and with her male voice said, “Hello, sweetie.”
The woman met Zephina’s gaze, unamused. “I arrest you for breaking and entering into the royal..”
A shatter of glass interrupted and before I could process what was happening Zephina pulled me out of the room. I tried to look back into the room but she blocked the doorway with her big frame.
“What did you just do?”
“What was needed.” My eyes widened and whole body fell down in body temperature.
“You didn’t need to kill her.” I said.
“I didn’t kill her, idiot. I did not kill her. Just some powder from the mountains of the dead.”
My eyes widened even further. Dead? Then she killed her.
“No I did not kill her Amara. Just a bit of knock out powder.”
I let out a sigh of relief I had apparently been maintaining for the past few minutes. The worst part of it all wasn’t that Zephina had somehow got hold of illegal drugs and carried it around with her person, it was that I would not have been surprised if she had killed her. The Stranger didn’t seem to care about fellow strangers.
I didn’t know her past. I didn’t know why she was a Stranger nor a Robber nor a Killer. I didn’t know why she could work so well in disguise and act. But if there was one thing I knew, it was that if she was touched, if anyone got in her wide pathway, she would kill them like cattle to slaughter.
Somehow I had agreed to run the remainder of the way and as it turned out, Zephina was not a very good running partner. It was not that she was fast, for once I was fast too, rather that she was so big in the empty narrow stone passageways that it didn’t matter how far away I ran, she would always bump into me or nudge me in the same painful places. I had offered to lead, but when she didn’t reply I remembered she was the only one who knew the way. Sadly.
When we reached the wooden door of the kitchens, I began worryingly, “What are we going to do now?”
I had not thought about what would happen after we had got here. It hadn’t occurred to me that we would even get past the guarded moat. But it seemed like Zephina was not lying when she said she had broken into the castle before. I had much to learn from this robber god.
Finger on her lips, Zephina slowly creaked the door open, trying to make as little noise as possible.
The first thing I noticed was the sheer greatness of the room but this is no way made it empty. There where pans and pots in every area and alcove of the room, people sweeping the marble floor and cutting the herbs and throwing coals in the fires and stirring soups and washing china plates and carving pieces of meat. Everyone, everything, however disorganised had a purpose. The king, or whoever took care of household matters obviously took great attention into food.
I had never seen the kitchens of a bigger household than my own, and then the only people to help cook was myself and the quiet servant Elijah my uncle had employed since forever. Even in the ships, I had never bothered to find and thank the people who made the delicacies I ate each day. It was rather ungrateful of me, I know saw. The number of people who prepared my food and washed my plates in the background, they all deserved a simple thanks.
Staring at Zephina, I tried to find her new plans. How where we to question such a vast number of servants of a man from 50 years ago? But Zephina was far ahead of me like usual. Retrieving the a butter knife from the rack on the edge she threw it at the man who seemed to be in the highest position of authority.
“What are you doing?” I said between my teeth. She ignored me once again like a small child.
“SHUT THE HELL UP!” She screamed in her male voice. The room that had just been panicking like a herd of lost chickens reduced to such silence that if I wanted to, I could probably hear my jade pin drop. I didn’t approve of this. This was wrong. But she was right, it was the only option. As long as she didn’t kill anyone who didn’t deserve it. Dove deserved it.
Zephina strode towards the head cook, an old man with grey hairs and wrinkled skin, old enough to have known Elias. Someone tapped on my sholdour, a shuddering little girl the age of 4 with tears streaming down her cheeks, caught up in this conflict. I was about to stop Zephina, to tell her to free these poor people but she bagan to speak and even I was captivated.
“I need to know, I NEED to know about a man called Elias. He was a cook here.”
The man under Zephina’s words frowned. A young woman closer to the door out that I was guarding said in a soft calm voice, “He was not just a cook. He was the fiancé of the queen.”
*This is why I need to change it future me*
My throat dried. The man I was searching for, the man I had been searching for.. for six months was the fiancé of the lost Queen. I tried to remain calm but Zephina faked it better.
“We knew that you imbeciles,” lied a deadly calm Zephina. No.. No we didn’t. Her acting skills ceased to amaze me. “Now tell me, where the hell is he.”
“How would we know?” said the same woman in hostility. But she spoke the truth, no-one had ever found the queen. And the investigation had been in duration for over 50 years. What made anyone think the two of us could find them?
The woman opened her mouth to speak again but the old man attached to the wall by a knife raised a hand. He was obviously respected around the room.
“That woman. The one at the door,” he said hoarsely with a tired voice. How could he know I was a woman? My disguise wasn’t that terrible. I gulped. He knew that I was wanted for murder. He knew.
“She is not a woman,” said the little girl at my side. I nodded, careful of my every move.
“Yes. Yes. I got it wrong. Now please, leave these kitchens. We know nothing.”
Zephina lent to take the knife back from the wall and ran with me all the way to the slums. Surprisingly they didn’t tell the guards to follow us and the woman near the windows was no-where to be seen.
ADD SOMETHING OVER HERE. PROLONG THE TENSION? (NOT THAT THERE IS ANY) OKKKK FUTURE MEE?
Just as I was about to change into something lighter, Zephina prevented me from doing so.
“What?” I said, stamping my foot on the ground.
She didn’t converse, simply slipping a crumpled paper into my hand and looking at me jollily. I scanned through the paper quickly, wanting to know what was there to be happy about.
Meet me in the The Fallen Flower at sunset tonight.
“It could be a trick?” I said cautiously. The man, he had slipped the note to Zephina. But why? It was true what the cooks had said. There was nothing more to be said on this matter. The queen and her fiancé (who was coincidentally Elias) were lost. Never to be found again. Probably dead. Zephina was right, I had been going on a wild goose chase. Uncle had sent me on this.
“And it very well may not be a trick. Amara, friend, if there is anything I have learnt about life it is that to be brave to take the danger and fail is a world better than stopping yourself from being in danger and then never knowing if you would have failed.”