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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 7 (v.1) - Chapter 7

Submitted: October 20, 2017

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Comments: 3

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Submitted: October 20, 2017



“I’m hungry,” Rachel whined.
The sun was merciless overhead as we continued down the dirt path. The princess and I had scarcely spoken since our argument by the pond last night. Renault was ahead of us, not looking bothered at all by the conditions. Hadn’t he spent his whole life at the palace? Even if it was spent training, surely he wouldn’t be this used to the environment.
“We’ll be at Milian in a couple of hours, milady,” Renault replied evenly. The manservant suddenly gestured to a band of wagons traveling by slowly. “In fact, I think it’s best we find our way onto that traveling caravan. Our chances of being spotted will be much smaller that way.”
I was nervous, but somehow we managed to get on. The people on the caravan seemed kind enough. A boy about my age sat beside the three of us, smoking on a pipe. He had some kind of cloth wrapped around his head, revealing tips of curly green hair peeking over his forehead. “So? Whatsit y’all are doin’ here?” he drawled, obviously not educated very well.
“Just some simple business that needs to be taken care of,” I replied as casually as I could manage. “It’s best we travel with you all for a bit until we get into town.”
He stuck out his hand after a moment. “Name’s Alex. Yours?”
Rachel offered her hand to the boy before I could return the handshake. “I’m Rachel.” She smiled. “And that stiff-looking grandpa over there is Renault.”
After shaking hands with the both of them, Alex turned to me. “I’m L --” I suddenly fell silent, recalling the decisions I had made. “They call me Jackrabbit. Though if it’s just on a casual basis, call me Jack.”
“Nice!” He shook my hand before leaning back against the wall of the caravan. A thick scent wafted through the air, pungent but not entirely unpleasant. It was very different from the scent of tobacco that plagued the docks of Langsport.
“What’s in that pipe you got there?” I asked.
“Oh, this ‘ere? It’s rosemary. Some laddy in the slums sold it to me. Been smokin’ it ever since. It’s been real popular ‘ere lately. Not sure why, but it’s pretty damn good.”
“He’s right, ya know,” a scantily-clothed woman across the small space chimed in. Her hair was as red as his was green, scarlet even in the dim light. “I don’t smoke, but a lotta the kids ‘round here seem to enjoy it.”
“Hi, I’m Rachel,” the princess said, offering her hand.
The woman paused for a moment in surprise before reluctantly shaking. In fact, I think it shocked all of us Rachel was so willing to shake hands with a woman like that. “Iselle,” the woman replied.
“Were you robbed by bandits?” Rachel pressed. “I’m afraid to say it, but you’re in nothing but smallclothes.”
A snort left Iselle. “No, I’m a dancer. Ya ain’t never seen a dancer before?”
“A dancer you say? How wonderful! Even your hair is pretty. I didn’t know hair could get this red,” she said, running a finger through the dancer’s silken hair.
“That’s ‘cause the owner here is one of them magic adepts,” Alex interrupted. “We’re just mer…,” he grimaced, struggling over the word. “Mer…merchandise to ‘im.”
“Since we perform, he needs us to look more exotic,” the dancer explained. At the very least, her education seemed to be better than Alex’s. “He used magic to change our hair color so it looks unique.”
“Oh.” Rachel looked down at the straw-covered floor of the wagon. “Well, I’m happy that you get to do such fun things as dancing. Do you do ball dancing? That looks a little bit different from what we wear when we dance.”
Iselle raised an eyebrow. “Ball dancing? Just who are ya anyway?”
“We’re just a couple of traveling merchants,” Renault interrupted before the princess could say anything further damning us. “However, Rachel here is from a rather wealthy family so she’s used to an easy life. But she’s due to marry soon, so her father decided it was time for her to leave the nest and learn about the world firsthand.” Her name sounded strange on his tongue. Unfamiliar. It was probably the first time he had ever referred to her so casually.
“Ah.” Iselle shifted against the wall in a resting position and yawned. “Well, ya sure are going to find yerself in a strange place here. Things aren’t quite so simple in these parts.”
“Maybe you can show me your dance later,” Rachel suggested. “I’m sure it’s wonderful.”
Various people around the wagon stared at her in bewilderment, including Iselle. I grabbed her hand and yanked her over to me. “By dancer, she means she’s a whore,” I whispered.
The princess put her hands to her mouth in shock, eyes widening. “Wait, does that mean that everyone here…?”
“I’m a bard,” Alex interrupted once more. It seemed he had a habit for shoving his way into conversations. “I play the lute. In fact, most of us ‘ere is just performers. Iselle is the exception.”
Despite that though, there seemed to be no ill will towards the red-haired woman. I smiled. They were all comrades; it didn’t matter what they did, since they were in the same boat. They were all employed under the same man working similar wages. Here we could be safe. Even if they knew who we truly were, it seemed doubtful they’d give us away.
Perhaps Rachel sensed my thoughts, since she smiled as well. It was the first time she’d truly looked at me since last night. Even as dirt stained her face, I had to admit she looked pretty. Not my type, but pretty.
Alex suddenly whistled. “Boy, I jus’ noticed it, but ya sure look pretty, miss. Whatcha say? How ‘bout ya be ma girl? Can’t offer much but ma love though.”
A slight red rushed to her cheeks as she shook her head. “No, I’m afraid not. I’m due to be married soon, you see. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“Who are ya marrying?” Iselle inquired.
“Um,” Rachel sent a darting glance toward me, “Jack. Jack and I are betrothed.” She grabbed my hand to convey the point. Her skin was warm, contrasting against my clammy skin.
I quickly squeezed her hand before loosening my grip. “You could’ve just said it was a friend of the family,” I whispered in irritation.
“I panicked,” she replied. Both of us had strained smiles plastered to our faces.
If Alex or the others noticed our friction, they didn’t say anything. The steady rumble of the caravan combined with the heavy scent of rosemary was enough to make anyone drowsy. As the hours passed by, I felt myself lulled to sleep by the relaxing mixture. Now that introductions were over, everyone was silent. But it was a contented silence, not awkward in the slightest. They were used to a lack of words. Leaning against the wall, my eyes shut as the caravan continued to move slowly down the road.
A rough jolt hit my shoulder. “Hey, wake up.”
Groaning in irritation, my eyes opened slowly. The picture was hazy at first, but soon focused into a clear image of Alex. He sat over me, the pipe no longer in his mouth. The scent of rosemary was long gone, as were most of the people inside the caravan. “Wake up,” he repeated. “We’re here.”
Groggily, I forced myself to my feet. “That rosemary can really put a guy out,” I grumbled.
Alex smiled. “Yeah, it can really throw ya for a loop.” He stuck out his hand once more. “That big guy ya were with, Renault or somethin’, said y’all might be stayin’ in town fer a bit. If that’s the case, yer free to come with us, so long as ya pull yer weight.”
I returned the smile wholeheartedly. “Thanks, we might take you up on that.”
Rachel crossed her arms upon seeing me climb out of the back of the caravan. “Finally! Took you long enough.”
“All right, all right,” I sighed. “Anyway, we’re in Milian, right? Let’s go find this Bertholdt guy. If his info turns out to be bogus, we stay with the caravan until we figure out where to go.”
“Bertholdt should be in the local tavern,” Renault said. The manservant began to walk down the cobbled roads. Now that I looked, we were certainly in a town. It was fairly large, the biggest building eight stories high or so. It was a clock tower, crafted of the highest quality stone. No doubt it must’ve taken the craftsmen years to construct such a thing.
Merchants sold their wares along the sides of the roads, shouting and waving around various foods and objects while townspeople milled around in groups. Thankfully, we caught little attention in such a high-energy environment. With all of us wearing casual clothing, there was little to distinguish us besides Rachel’s blonde hair. Except to my surprise it was suddenly a plain brown.
The princess caught my gaze and smiled. “The people in the caravan were kind enough to dye my hair for me. I said I wanted to try changing my hair color, and Iselle was generous to allow me.”
Indeed, it was a genius move. Changing one’s hair color was uncommon outside of the entertainment industry. And rarely ever did one change their hair color to something natural. It would blend Rachel in perfectly.
“Do we have any money?” I asked Renault. My gaze was drawn to a pair of juicy sausages hanging from a merchant’s stand. They seemed fresh and almost warm.
He followed my gaze, squinting in thought. “Hmm. We do, but I’m not sure if it’s wise to spend it on meat. Bread is cheaper, and will fill you up just as much.”
“But I’m hungry,” Rachel complained. In the time she had forgotten her hunger hours ago, it had returned with renewed ferocity. Even I could hear her stomach growling.
With a sigh of capitulation, Renault walked forward and spoke with the merchant. After several moment, they exchanged goods and he came back, sausages in hand. “Here,” he said while handing the meat to Rachel. “Eat all of it and leave nothing left. Food might become scarce later.”
I took the other sausage, savoring the rich meat. Renault seemed unbothered by the lack of food as he continued to walk. Once again, I had to wonder if he was made of metal. Perhaps he was some kind of superhuman puppet crafted by magic.
Alex had been right in his mention of the rosemary. Various townspeople and merchants alike had pipes hanging from their mouths, the thick scent of the herb wafting through the air. Perhaps it has medicinal properties? I wondered to myself as we continued onwards.
Eventually, we came upon a tavern. It was rather small, but apparently that’s where Bertholdt was. Rachel and I followed Renault as the manservant shouldered his way inside. Various unshaven men sat around, drinking and laughing. Upon looking at Rachel, their shouting grew louder. “Oi, missey, come sit on my lap,” one particular man crowed.
Renault flashed a searing gaze over to him. “Pardon?”
The man fell into an uncomfortable silence. The men sitting with him did as well, all of them looking at us intensely as Renault continued to walk to the other side of the pub. A fierce-looking bearded man in tattered robes sat at a table in the corner. He looked up as Renault approached, a weary smile on his face. “Ah, Renault, my boy, it’s good to see you.”
“Likewise, Bertholdt,” Renault replied. The two man shared a firm hug and Bertholdt slapped the manservant on the back.
The bearded man sat back down at the table and sighed. “I take it you’re here for my info, right?”
Renault nodded, sitting at the table. After a moment, Rachel and I followed his example. Bertholdt looked at Rachel, a surprising amount of kindness in his gaze. “You look so much older, Lady Rachel.”
She tilted her head to the side. “Do I…know you?”
“Sir Bertholdt was a part of the royal guard when we were children,” Renault answered. “He was my mentor before retiring to travel the continent.”
The bearded man nodded. “Correct.” He laid out a piece of aged parchment. “Here it is. You’ll find what you’re looking for right here.” He pointed to a tiny black dot in a sea of empty space. The word, “Celstine,” was written in neat cursive. “If you’re looking for a place where no one will find you, this’ll do the trick.”
Renault squinted. “Pardon, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. There are nothing but plains here.”
“Ah, but that’s the trick.” Bertholdt grinned. “It’s in the plains, though it’s secluded. It’s hidden by magic and convenient location.”
Suddenly the dot seemed a lot more interesting. “Fascinating,” Renault murmured. “What could it possibly be hiding for it to be sequestered in the middle of nowhere like this?”
“How’d you find it if it’s hidden by magic?” Rachel huffed.
“I didn’t find it, I bought this off a queer fellow I knew over the years. Swears up and down that it’s real, but I don’t know for sure.” He sighed and took a swig of whiskey. “You can take your chances and look for a village that doesn’t exist, or you can find another way.”
Despite being close friends, Renault was quick to leave after thanking the former guard. As we left, the decision hung over us. “Is it really safe to go looking in the open plains for something that might not exist?” Rachel asked.
“True. There are no places to take cover should Henry search for us,” Renault grunted.
“Then let’s stay with the caravan,” I suggested. “It’s safe there, and we can blend in. I’m sure the traveling performance life can’t be too bad.”
“I think it’s best as well,” Renault agreed. “We’d best meet back up with them then. They’re in the town square, I believe.”
Following the throng of people, it wasn’t difficult to find the town square. At the very center, a large crowd of townspeople huddled around, watching Alex. The boy strummed the lute, still smoking his rosemary pipe. Behind him, Iselle danced, translucent ribbons flying up behind her with each movement. The three of us stuck to the back of the crowd, watching politely. Several feet away, two sharply-dressed men caught my attention. They were in the royal palace uniform.
“Good thing Prince Henry sent us to this place,” the long-haired one said. “We may not find Princess Rachel or her kidnappers, but at least we can enjoy some good entertainment.”
“I might see if I can catch that dancer later,” the shorter-haired one replied with a wink.
I nudged Rachel’s shoulder and gestured to the two soldiers. Renault’s gaze followed me before spotting them as well. The manservant took off his cloak before resting it on the princess’ shoulders. It was giant on her, fully shielding the girl from view. Before we could consider moving, the performance was over.
Alex spotted us out of the corner of his eye. He ran over, waving his hand. “Hey!” The bard stopped for a moment as he suddenly bumped into one of the guards. “Oof! Sorry, my bad,” he apologized.
The long-haired guard grabbed Alex by his neck and lifted him off the ground. “You dare speak to me, you street rat?” he growled. “I’m disgusted that I even touched you.”
“Leave him be!” Iselle shouted. The dancer ran over, nearly tripping over her veil. “Please, he meant no harm!”
“Who are you talking to me like that, woman?!” the shorter-haired one barked, shoving her backwards savagely. “You have no right to address me, scum.”
Rachel gripped my arm tightly, her knuckles turning white. But was it really worth intervening? They could recognize who she was. Before I could decide on a course of action, the princess dashed forward in front of the men. “Stop!” she cried. “Stop, in the name of House Leviatan! How dare you act so insolently under my father’s good name?!”
The long-haired guard paused before letting go of Alex. The boy slumped to the ground coughing. He grabbed Rachel’s arm, yanking the princess towards him. “Could it be…? Her hair is different, but her mannerisms are the same.” Under his scrutinous gaze, there was no way her disguise would hold up.
The short-haired guard tapped his friend’s shoulder. “It is her: Princess Rachel of Leviatan!” He smiled, but it was the sort of grin that felt sickening to look at. “To think that in this small town we found the kidnapped princess. Come, we must bring her back to Prince Henry.”
“Not so fast!” I barked, jumping into the conflict. “Rachel’s coming with us; you can’t take her with you.”
The long-haired one leered at me. Handing the princess over to his comrade, he drew a sword from his side. “Oh? I’d be happy to settle this here and now if it makes you happy.” He pointed the blade at me, inches away from my throat.
“Wait a second, he doesn’t even have a weapon!” Renault interjected, stepping forward. 
Now their attention was turned to him. “Ah, Renault Amities,” the short-haired one taunted. “To think the king’s most trusted guard would kidnap the princess along with some merchant boy.” He turned to look at me once more. “Hmm, this boy looks different, but it’s him, no?”
“That merchant boy is dead,” I growled. “I’m a hired assassin in his stead.” Even though my words were cocky, my legs were trembling. I can’t die. Not here. 
The short-haired one twisted Rachel’s arm, earning a squeal of pain from the hostage. “So young and sweet,” he hummed carelessly. “Maybe I’ll have a little fun with her myself before we take her back. I prefer women though, not girls.”
Time was slowing as we stood there. My heart hammered in my chest just as it had back then. Was I still going to be the same coward? I was Jackrabbit now -- there was no more room for hesitation. My gaze shot around, desperately looking for a solution. It was in Alex’s boot. A knife was strapped to the inside, a small weapon but nonetheless it would be useful. I sucked in a quick breath before making a desperate lunge. This is it. Either your life or theirs.
My fingers found the small blade before they could react and I spun away with it in hand. The long-haired soldier muttered a curse before running at me with the sword. Adrenaline rushed through my system, too much for me to balk. It was more of a reaction than an intention. But the next thing I knew, I had sidestepped his blade and buried the hilt of the knife in his chest right over his heart.
The soldier screamed; the ugly sound made me cringe. He staggered forward, blood soaking the ground. The knife was still stuck in his chest, but he made no move to pull it out. His short-haired friend stared at me, and I returned the gaze with a glare. He pushed Rachel back at me and ran the other way, completely forgetting his friend.
The townspeople were used to conflict, but they were not used to dead bodies. They ran and screamed in every direction. Alex and Iselle ignored the chaos, instead approaching us. Alex took the knife from the corpse, but made no move to sheath it. The blade dripped scarlet, and my heart plummeted looking at it. I had spilled that blood. Me. No one else to blame but myself. 
Suddenly, my stomach churned. I heaved, throwing up whatever was left of the sausage from earlier. It felt like my legs didn’t have enough strength to stand. I staggered, falling to the ground. The only thing rushing up to greet me was darkness and the cobblestone streets.

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