“People call them the shadows. They don’t speak, so no-one knows how they came about. Ximena told me that they were creatures of death, that they were the souls of the evillest and most corrupted beings in this world. Perhaps that is what they are. I didn’t kill them- you can’t kill them. But you can make them go away with a prick to their heart. I don’t know why. She told me.”
I gulped in the information, finally seeing the happiness in the way he had stopped calling me Ximena and Ximena, Amara. We were definitely very different people. I was not her and she was not me. I should just accept that.
The door to the magic lands was getting closer according to Elias. It had been a mere six hours riding, but due to the previous ‘exitement’ I was extremely bored. So I tried to think of what to do when we got there. The fort was heavily guarded with forces from all three countries protecting mankind from the horrors within. They said that they sent forces inside daily, to kill of the magic but I didn’t know enough on the matter to devise an opinion. But I knew the people agreed. In my time in Faechman, the masses had always loved at every moment to throw insults at the Xana and the other magic. They must have a point. Surley?
I didn’t know what we would find there either. Would there be danger? Would we find what I was looking for? The more I tried to answer my questions, the more questions popped up inside my tired head. I just wanted this all to end. I didn’t ask to be all this, to have this duty and burden that I didn’t even know of on my shoulders. But I had to, didn’t I? I couldn’t just give up.
Then, I didn’t even know where to begin. I had overlooked the fact we didn’t even have a plan to get through the door, in the frantic way everything had been devised. I didn’t think I would ever get here, or maybe it was because I didn’t want to ever get there. From my knowledge, there was no way in. Panic hit me, my breathing growing heavier and hands shaking from side to side.
“Amara!” shouted Zephina from ahead.
“Zephina!” I laughed half-heartedly, trying to distract me. This was turning into a habit, repeating each other’s names.
“You two always do that, it’s getting annoying,” mumbled Elias from under his breath.
“What?” we both snapped at the same time.
“Nothing,” he said after a sceptical look behind him.
I shifted my legs, getting tired from the constant knocking and clip clop. Zephina turned her head to face me and stopped to say something but shaked her head of the words.
“What is wrong?” I whispered.
“You. You’re wrong. You are worried.”
“It is nothing... Sorry, I’m just rather anxious about how we are going to get into the magic lands.We don’t even have a plan. Nothing.”
She smiled at me, knowingly like a mother to her child. “Well we have a wig, some paint and...” she looked back to check the heavy bag she was carrying, “A dress for a lady.”
It turns out Zephina was truthful in what she said. But her plan as she explained it to us over a foot before the Fortress of the Fae, seemed extremely farfetched.
“Amara, here, will where this dress,” she said, unveiling the teal dress I had sown in Faechman,”And will pretend to be a stingy Lady Isabelle with two servants, us. She will demand access with the owner of this wretched place with a signature and seal from the king. They will give a shelter to this poor lady and then... all hell lets loose.”
I raised my eyebrows and in turn Elias leaned against the oak tree worryingly. “Where do you plan to get the signature and seal from?”
Zephina smiled deviously and retrieved a brown package from her never ending faded blue bag. I fumbled with the string around it, quite aware of the stares from both of my companions, and finally let the package open to reveal a formal looking letter in a heavy, expensive looking envelope. To pull everything together, a black and gold royal wax seal was set against the paper. I looked up to Zephina, unable to produce any words but the questions raced in my head.
“How?” said Elias, peering over my small figure like a giraffe at a mouse.
“Oh, it was nothing. I learnt how to forge letters in my cradle,” Zephina brushed some dirt from her nails and then looked directly into my fearful eyes, “No. Mother. I did not kill anyone, hurt anyone or do anything you would disapprove of. Just a bit of stealing; nothing you are not used to.”
The fear fell away like the leaves of the bare oak tree, with spiking twigs waiting to be filled with burdens in the spring. In simpler terms, I was still wary but for now, I was relieved. What I was doing was right. Besides the King was my nephew. I could do whatever I wanted.
So I changed behind the bushes into the gown I had sown in the festival of light. It reminded me of Faechman, it was elegant and beautiful at the same time as poking in the ribs and my terrible embroidery scratching at my back. I thought of that as Zephina tidied my hair into a copper coloured wig and told me how to stand and to sit like a lady, not that I needed any instruction on that matter; I was practically a Queen.
She fussed over how I was to speak, how I was to stand, how I was to do everything, as if she had experience on the matter. I didn’t mind too much, though. Well, I tried not to.
Elias watched throughout the experience, at times smiling at the air and the trees, at something so delicately far away. I would have been like that, if I remembered. I would have been lost in the past and the present and the future. I was lucky that some bastard had made me forget.
When the break of dawn hit the greenery to create shadows, I knocked on the door of the fortress twice- Zephina told me that is how proper women knock.
At the door came a tall man with raven coloured hair who catcalled at my sight, “Finally. A woman.”
Anger took over me, and I know I shouldn’t have but I snapped, “The king shall have your head chopped off, if you say that again.”
Zephina nudged me but the man looked rather a lot more scared than I had anticipated. He must have believed us because then he led us through a newer looking stone building for what seemed like miles, without a single word, until we reached another stone door.
“General Burswlaw, head of the Fortress of the Fae.”
I breathed in my last breath and took a seat across the table, head held up high and I felt the reassuring presense of Zephina and Elias behind me. I waited for her to speak, but she continued to write something on a letter peculiarly like... Dove.
Just as I was about to give up and scream at the woman, General Burswlaw finally caught the attention of my pursed lips and incessant tapping on her desk.
“You were caught trespassing on illegal ground? What country are you from?” she assumed.
I did not speak, for the fear that my shaking voice would give me away but instead placed the letter in her calcussed hands. She brought the seal to her monoglassed eyelid and nodded in a stern fashion before opening the letter and reading it.
This was the moment of truth. Was Zephina’s forgery good enough for the woman who had led battles against magic folk, the woman who had singlehandly prevented war from breaking out in all directions in every household of every village and hamlet, at the same time as single handedly ordering for the cold blooded deaths of a hundred thousand beings.
“Lady from Faechamn? The king? Work experience?” Nodded the woman. Oh Zephina, you could have at least done something believable.
“Yes, M’aam.” I lied, straightening my back.
“Aah,” she raised one eyebrow, “I see. Captain Woodfield make Lady Sophia and her servants welcome in the west wing. Give them breakfast. Lady Sophia, I shall call for you tomorrow.”
We were led back through the polished hallways and into a bare looking room, to recline.
“Zephina..” I whispered when I was certain that Woodfield was not snooping around the door. She looked at me, equally dazed.
“Seriously. Can the two of you stop this. It is terribly annoying!” said an unamused Elias on the bed.
“What?” we said together, just for the sake of it. He didn’t speak again, rather put his thin pale freckled face in the long artist fingers of his. I started laughing and so did Zephina and we danced around the room like crazy women, drunk to the brim while Elias lay laughing too.
We were too drunk with relief to realise that we were foolish. Too drunk with relief that relief clouded our perception and tainted reason to heart. To drunk with relief to realise that there was nothing to be relieved of.
That night when we tried to open the door and escape, it was locked. That was when we panicked.