So as I mentioned before, I had to write a short story for one of my classes at school, and I thought I’d share the finished product with all of you! If you’d like it in an epub format (where you can download it to places like iBooks and take it on the go), please email me through the Contact Me part of my blog, and I’d be happy to send it to you! You’ll get the story in it’s proper format (with the correct spacing and fonts), so just say the word!
So I hope you enjoy Pieces of Me
Pieces of Me
The oversized dining hall is silent but for the clinks and scrapes of cutlery on fine china. Father sits at the head of the table, buttering a piece of toasted bread with unnecessary force. To his right, Leila slumps in her seat, absentmindedly pushing a strawberry across her plate, smearing the red juice like paint on canvas. Her coffee has remained untouched, undulating slightly when my mother places a firm palm on the table to get everyone’s attention.
“How was your party last night, Fawn?”
I cringe. I had hoped that last night’s party would fly under the radar, but mother never seems to be able to let anything go. Leila’s shadowed eyes peer across the table at me, cold and lifeless. Mother looks at me expectantly with a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
My father finally looks up, allowing a rare smile to pinch his lips as he cuts through the silence. “Our little girl, already eighteen.”
Birthday parties have always been a lavish affair at the Loretta palace, and last night was no exception. The entire ballroom had been filled to the brim with my best of friends and many allied royals from the countries surrounding Corriveau. This particular year, mother and father had hired the local orchestra to perform while the entire kitchen staff worked tirelessly to provide an endless array of decadent foods. My parents were there at the beginning of the party, greeting every guest personally and placing perfectly wrapped gifts on an already overflowing table. Once the real festivities had begun – luscious foxtrots and sweeping waltzes – I took a moment to stand at the open windows, allowing the cool air to brush the back of my neck as I scanned the ballroom. My parents were nowhere to be found, not even a trace of lingering perfume or the half full wineglass my father had been clutching. Before I had the chance to begin searching the halls for them, two servants wheeled a massive, six-tier cake to the centre of the room. The crowd chorused a happy birthday song, drowning out the fine music as well as my own thoughts. Though my parents have always been the ones to light the candles, they were nowhere to be found. After a few minutes and still no sign of them, one servant pulled out a matchbook and lit the candles herself, all eighteen of them.
I made my wish with no family in sight.
My mother’s concerned voice brings me back to the table, where all three of my family members are staring at me.
I clear my throat. “It was fine.”
Satisfied with my answer, mother places her linen napkin on the table and gets up to leave. Father follows closely behind her, and despite the fact that he’s only whispering, I can tell they’re discussing a serious issue as they leave. Leila has dropped her gaze to the plate in front of her, where the strawberry is now merely mush smudged across the plate. Mother and father have ingrained in me a need to entertain my sister, so I automatically prepare to crack a joke. Just as I inhale in preparation, Leila scrapes her chair back so quickly that it tips over as she flees, leaving me alone in the cavernous hall. I sigh and push away my own half-eaten plate. Clearly breakfast is over before it even had the chance to begin, and I find myself already dreading luncheon, where the process will start all over again.
There is no shortage of guards lining the pillared, ornate halls as I make my way to the palace library. My own image is reflected back at me by the many mirrors spaced between the arched windows: Where many see a put together princess, I see a lonely little girl trying to be heard in an endless sea of voices. As I amble down the hall, the guards are practically shoulder-to-shoulder, and eventually completely bottlenecked. Instead of going left towards the library, I pause, ensnared by the screaming voices on the opposite side of Leila’s door.
“Get up, Leila! We’re already late for our appointment.”
It’s my mother, without a doubt. Her voice is slightly muffled by the door, but there’s no mistaking the knife edge her words seem to carry nowadays when Leila is around.
“I don’t need a healer!” Leila shouts back. “I’m fine!”
Instead of sticking around, I turn to make my way to the library. Fighting between my sister and parents never seems to cease anymore. Dawn til dusk, if Leila wasn’t sulking around the house and hiding her food in the dumpsters, she was slitting throats with sharp words. For years now, her mysterious illness has halted all the other projects in our palace. I can’t remember a time where we weren’t obsessing over tests, random medication, and uttering threats of feeding tubes. Instead of bothering to get caught up in the battle time and time again, I’ve learned to disappear as quickly as possible. My solace has quickly become the library, a commodious, two-storey addition to the palace that my grandmother commissioned decades ago.
After an hour or so of peace on my favourite chaise, a young maid clears her throat. She’s standing by the shelves and fidgeting with her hands as she shifts her weight from one foot to the other. After a long beat of silence, I sigh and slam my book shut before gesturing her to speak up.
“Y-your dress is ready, in, in t-town, milady.” She finally manages to choke out.
I nod slowly. “And you’re telling me this because…”
Her eyes widen further, reminding me of the protruding eyes of a chameleon. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if she turned a dark shade of mahogany and backed away to blend in with the bookshelves.
“The Queen sent me to give you this,” the maid says in response, thrusting a wax-sealed envelope at me.
It’s time you got out of the palace for a little bit. Your new gown is ready at Miss Nightingale’s shop, and I think it would be good for you to go get it yourself. Your father, sister and I are leaving for the night to visit another doctor, so I’ve arranged for a guard to escort you there and back.
P.S – Love you!
Without even realizing it, the paper crumples in my hand, and the still-warm wax hardens on my thumb. I reluctantly leave the library and begin to meander down the many hallways, taking as much time as possible to get to the front doors. I already know what my mother will say about the dress – that it’s a reward, a gift to me for being so good while my parents keep busy serving my sister like slaves. In actuality, it’s more of a bribe than anything. Hush money to keep me quiet and obedient. I’m almost ashamed that admit that to this day, it still works.
Before I know it, the imposing front doors of the castle are towering overhead. A guard is waiting there, donning an evergreen cloak in preparation to combat the icy chill of early spring. When a servant tries to hand me my own cloak, I wave a hand dismissively and walk out the door. It’s a short trip to the village, but still too long considering that a guard is on my heels like a dog seeking scraps.
In the heart of the village square, the cacophony of voices is crushing. People are all over, hawking wares from their stands or brushing past one another with arms full of children, laundry, and exotic animals. An involuntary shudder runs down my spine as people seem to flash in and out of my vision, overwhelming with their brightly coloured tunics and cloying scents. Then, finally seeing my face and my guard, people back away quickly, clumsily bumping into one another in their haste. The only person who doesn’t seem to care is an elderly woman hunched over a crooked cane, staring at us intently. She signals me over with a frail finger and smiles crookedly. Instead of following, I veer off onto a different road in an attempt to avoid her piercing stare.
Yet the moment I turn, the old lady is there.
In every direction I look, the woman seems to have replaced each and every villager, distorting their youthful faces with the woman’s mischievous, wrinkled one. They all point fingers in the same direction – a crooked wooden trailer parked at the edge of the village.
I jump at the voice. It’s the guard, staring at me in puzzlement. I realize I haven’t moved in at least a few minutes, and people have begun to murmur. The susurrations continue as I follow the surprisingly agile old woman to her trailer. As soon as the three of us are inside, the door slams shut by itself. The guard moves to stand in front of me, one hand on his scabbard. For once, I’m grateful. Better he die than me.
“Princess Fawn,” the old woman crows as she gestures to rickety seats around a round table. “Lovely to see you out and about.”
I trepidatiously sit and smooth out my skirts. “Thank you, miss…”
“Kritanta,” she finishes. “Sybil Kritanta.”
“Well, Miss Kritanta, what can I do for you?”
Sybil shakes her head and laughs gleefully. “Not so fast, Princess. Young man, what’s your name?”
The guard standing beside me clears his throat, looking uncomfortable. “Rake Salvino, ma’am.”
“Have a seat, Rake. This will take some time.”
Rake glares at the chair as if it might burst into flames at any moment. I scoff and kick the chair, scooting it backwards. “Sit.”
He sighs almost imperceptibly but obeys, sinking into the chair like a deflating balloon. I squint at the woman who seems to enjoy our discomfort.
“Your sister is very sick, yes?”
“Yes,” Rake and I say in unison. We look at each other in shock as Sybil laughs once more.
She sobers almost immediately before nodding. “A parasite of the stomach, one that eats the person from the inside out.”
“How do you know that?” I sputter. Leila’s illness has been so under wraps that even I don’t know the general issues, let alone what’s actually wrong with her. Sure, there have been plenty of visits to doctors and healers and more than enough speculation, but as far as I know, nothing has ever come out of any of it.
“I see it,” Sybil says simply. “It’s written in the stars and in the sun, in the earth and in the water.”
“Okay, we’re done here.” I say, gesturing for Rake to stand. He nods in agreement as he reaches for the doorknob.
“Don’t you want the cure?”
Both of us freeze. The temperature in the room seems to have dropped ten degrees.
“Of course I want the cure,” I snarl. “But I don’t need your platitudes to help me find it.”
“Not platitudes, dear. Stars, sun, land and water. Ingredients.”
Beside me, Rake snorts. “And then what? Collect all the ingredients, consult a witch and dance around a campfire?”
“Not exactly. There are four ingredients you need -”
“This is ridiculous, Princess. Let’s go,” Rake says, motioning for the door again.
I hold up a hand to stop him. “Let her finish.”
Before Rake can protest, Sybil continues. “It’s simple, really. Collect all four ingredients, mix them up into a serum, and let the patient drink it. Cured.”
I sink back into my seat and consider the possibility. Certainly stranger things have happened in this land. What’s one more antidote to try in the grand scheme of things?
“So what exactly are the ingredients?” I ask, intrigued. “And why are you telling us this at all?”
Sybil inhales deeply, and for the first time I take notice of the hollows beneath her eyes and her laboured breathing. “Because I am ill as well, too ill to go search for the ingredients myself. I have no family, no friends. No one to help. But once I could tell that you both had sisters suffering, I knew you would help me.”
“And how do you know we won’t just make the antidote and leave you to die?”
“Because I’ve been watching you, Princess Fawn.” Sybil says simply. “You are as tough as leather, that’s true. But I also see the desperation in you, and the desire to help everyone you can. A saviour complex of sorts. Remember when you were determined to save the dying deer on your lawn?”
I nod, unsurprised that Sybil would know this about me as well considering she can spew family secrets even I don’t know. I couldn’t save the poor baby, and I must have cried for days.
“So I’m trusting that you’ll help me too.” Sybil continues. “Here is what you’ll need; the soil of Kenta, the star of alpha, and a sunscraper.”
“That’s three items,” Rake points out. “What about the water ingredient?”
“Dear, when I said water, I meant water.”
I stifle a laugh as Rake clenches his eyes shut in annoyance.
“Where do we find all these things?”
Sybil shrugs. “If I knew, I’d have them already.”
“We should really consult the King and Queen,” Rake points out as we walk back to the palace. Sybil had cast us out without another word, leaving us to make sense of her vague instructions.
I shake my head. “They’d never allow it. We leave tonight, while they’re gone.”
We debate the pros and cons of such a task as we trek back to the palace. Everything around us seems to have fallen back into its natural rhythm, as if a life changing event hasn’t just taken place. It takes Rake some time to warm up to the idea of going on such a journey, but his sister is sick too, and if he’s anything like me, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her alive. So by the time we’ve made it home, Rake agrees to meet me at the servant’s entrance of the palace once everyone has retired for the night.
Thankfully, with three out of four members of the royal family gone, the staff is much more relaxed than usual, making it easy for me to slip down the many flights of stairs to the ground floor. There’s no telling how long this is going to take, so I’ve managed to pack a small satchel with a few essentials in the hopes that it would be enough. Rake is waiting for me, his own backpack slung over one shoulder. Without any words, we sneak out the glass doors and head into the darkness of midnight. Rake has prepared two horses for us, both draped in embroidered blankets to keep away the chill. We don’t get far before the arguing begins. Rake is convinced that we should start with the soil of Kenta, but I argue that since it’s nighttime, the star of alpha makes more sense. When he continues to quarrel with me, I play my Princess Card, and he agrees to search for the star.
We must have travelled for an hour or so before Rake’s horse snorts and stomps its hooves, demanding rest. A small river runs by, so we let the horses water themselves under the cover of the woods. A small clearing gives access to a view of innumerable stars, vast in their beauty.
“What is an alpha star, anyways?” Rake asks, coming to stand beside me.
“The first star in a constellation,” I explain. “It’s usually regarded as the primary star, followed by beta and sometimes gamma.”
When Rake gives me a how-the-hell-do-you-know-that look, I scoff. “Unlike you, I don’t spend my free time shooting stag.”
Instead of retorting, Rake turns his gaze back to the sky. “What constellation are we looking for?”
I shrug in response. Plenty of constellations are out, crystal clear considering we’re so far from city lights. It would be near-impossible to know which one Sybil was talking about, and completely impossible to know how to get it. The only thing I can think of is the zodiac constellations, but apart from knowing I’m a cancer, I can’t recall the other ones.
“When’s your birthday?” I eventually ask.
“What’s your zodiac sign?”
Now it’s Rake’s turn to scoff. “I might not spend my days shooting stag, but I don’t spend them consulting my horoscope, either.”
“Just answer the question.”
Rake pauses to think. “A libra, I believe. My sister…” he trails off, clearing his throat. “My sister used to read me my horoscope every day.”
“Libra,” I whisper to myself.
Suddenly a constellation catches my eye. The Libra, a constellation made up of eight stars resembling the scales of justice. I had a tutor once who used to make me spend hours pouring over the pictures and names of constellations, learning what they meant and the stories behind them. Libra is the constellation that stands for balance, and balance is a component of health. I share my thoughts with Rake, who seems to think it’s a better lead than anything else we had considered up until this point.
“But it’s not like we can just grab the star,” Rake points out obviously.
“But there are plenty of scales around town,” I offer. “Isn’t there a fountain in front of the courthouse with one on it?”
Rake nods. “You think the ingredient is on the top of the scale?”
“It’s worth a shot.”
We collect the horses from the river and ride back into town as a sinking feeling settles in my heart. We’ve wasted far too much time traipsing around fields and staring at stars when we could have been thinking logically closer to home. Still, the darkness continues to offer us some cover when we arrive at the courthouse. The fountain is massive and it’s still gushing water despite there being no one around to observe it.
“What a waste of water.” I mumble.
“Really? That’s what you’re concerned about right now?” Rake asks incredulously.
“I’m just saying!” I snap.
Rake ignores me and turns his attention back to the fountain. It’s five tiers high with a sculpture of the scales of justice perched on top. Water spews all around it, dripping from the scale’s plates and down the sides. The fulcrum has an upside down plumb bob at the top, wide enough to conceal something within. I point it out to Rake, who reluctantly agrees. It’s a long climb to the top, made all the more arduous by the cold water and steady, whistling wind that has begun to blow. Rake makes no move to jump into the fountain, urging me to get in instead.
“Why do I have to do it?” I ask. “You’re the guard.”
“Exactly. I’ll guard you as you go get it.”
Since we’ve already wasted so much time bickering, I forgo another fight and take my boots and socks off instead. The second I get a toe into the water, I yelp. It’s ice cold, made even worse by the misty spray hitting my face. Rake is behind me, laughing up a storm. As I climb, I flick my foot backwards through the water and smile inwardly at Rake’s indignant huff when the droplets catch him. My enjoyment quickly melts away when I slip on the slick third tier and smack the top of my forehead off the stone. Instead of replying to Rake’s concern, I scramble the rest of the way up and examine the fulcrum to distract myself from the pain. It’s stuck solid, and the only indication of it coming off is the slight crack on the bottom. Rake tries to get me to take his sword and cut it off, but there’s no way I’m going back down and up this fountain again, not when my head is pounding and blood is running into my eyes. Instead, I sit on the top of the fountain and smash my foot at the crack. Rake is yelling now, curse words and instructions and other choice words I decide to ignore. It takes a few solid kicks, but eventually I feel the top give way.
When I reach the ground, smiling triumphantly with the plumb bob in my hand, Rake rubs his eyes. “Why the hell would you kick it?”
I wave him off as I pull on my shoes. “I played association football for a decade. It was the fastest way.”
Rake just shakes his head as he examines the fountain piece he’s taken from me. He fiddles with the top, twisting and bending it every which way. The top begins to loosen and eventually unscrews completely. Rake shows it me – there’s a murky green substance inside, so viscous it barely moves. Rake sniffs it and wrinkles his nose as he retches.
“Are we sure it’s not just mold?” He chokes out.
I take the plumb bob from him and screw the cap back on before packing it in my satchel.
“Better we take it and find out then leave it and need it,” I rationalize as we make our way back to the horses. I stifle a yawn as the sun begins to creep up on the horizon.
“Should we stop to rest?” Rake suggests. “You look like you’re about to keel over.”
“We don’t have time for that.” I fire back. “My family is coming home today. We need the soil of Kendra.”
“Kenta,” Rake corrects.
“That’s what I said.”
“Can’t we just scoop up some dirt and be done with it?” I whine.
Rake and I have been circling the dozens of farms around the countryside for hours. Despite my bravado earlier, I regret not taking up Rake’s offer of resting, considering I can barely stay upright in the saddle. It’s high noon, and the unusual spring heat isn’t helping my mood at all. We spitball ideas back and forth as we continue on. There’s no shortage of farms to explore and dirt to muddy our shoes with, but there’s still no indication of any kind of special soil. Eventually we reach the smallest farm I’ve ever seen, barely visible among the mass-produced farmland surrounding it.
“I think I have an idea,” Rake says simply.
Once we get close to the main house on the property, an older man hobbles out the front door and down the steps. He’s smiling brightly despite the limp in his step and the sagging side of his face that bespeaks a stroke earlier in his life. Another, younger man follows behind him, grim in the face.
“Rake.” The old man murmurs in disbelief.
Rake and I dismount as we get closer to the two men.
“Princess Fawn, this is my father Redmond and brother Almas.” Rake says. There’s an obvious edge to his voice when he addresses his sibling.
After I properly introduce myself, Redmond takes us inside, gesturing wildly as he speaks. He fusses over us, offering tea and scones and delicacies I’m not completely sure he has. Almas is stoic as he follows us inside. Redmond is in the kitchen getting water we said we didn’t want as Almas glowers at us – or, at his brother. I sag in relief when Redmond comes back into the room and smiles brightly.
“Why are you here, Rake?” Almas asks, cutting his father off.
“I need to talk to dad,” he clips. “So it’s really none of your business.”
“I’d dare say it is, when my deadbeat brother shows up out of the blue after salivating over the royal family like an obsessed swain.”
“We don’t have time for this,” I say, rubbing a hand on my temple. “Mr Salvino, Rake and I need to-”
“This is ridiculous.” Almas cuts in.
“Shut up or I’ll personally see you guillotined,” I threaten. “And I don’t think your sister would appreciate that, would she?”
Almas shoots me a deadly glare before storming off. I cringe as a door slams shut, practically shaking the walls of the small house.
“Sorry, but it was necessary,” I say when I realize Rake is giving me another one of his looks. He shrugs and turns to his dad.
“Look – we don’t have much time. We’re looking for ingredients to make an antidote to heal Princess Leila and Anastasia, and we need the soil of Kenta to do it. Is that what we use here?”
Redmond nods slowly before explaining the tale to both of us. Apparently the Salvino family are the only farmers in the entire country who can grow strawberries that truly ripen, and it’s all thanks to an old blessing on the soil of the land. The Kenentan Blessing, as it’s been called in the old fables.
“And you think the soil will help heal Anastasia?” Redmond asks.
Rake nods. “Or something to do with the soil, anyways.”
“The roots?” I offer. “Or the plant itself?”
Instead of answering, Redmond invites me outside while Rake goes to check on his sister. Though the land is small, it’s clearly fertile if the seemingly endless rows of strawberry bushes are any indication. Redmond leads me through the farm and to a small greenhouse towards the back of the property. The room is gigantic, and the cloying scent of strawberry is overwhelming. More rows of the fruit – potted this time – are placed on long tables stretching towards the back wall.
“The soil of Kenta isn’t just the ground on which we grow our strawberries,” Redmond explains as we walk between the rows. “We use soil to clean the water here. It’s an old practice, but using the cleanest water helps produce the best strawberries. A cycle, you see?”
“So you use Kenta soil to purify the water that hydrates the fruit,” I clarify.
Redmond nods. “So I think what you really seek is a strawberry. I’ve been experimenting a bit with different watering methods, and I have a strawberry that has only been Kenta watered since I planted it.”
As he speaks, he leads me to the very back of the greenhouse. A special pot labelled with illegible writing is sitting right in the sun. It’s filled with the largest strawberries I’ve ever seen, all bright red with glistening black seeds and framed by leafy green foliage. Redmond selects a few of the best ones and carefully places them in a plastic container.
“Thank you,” I say as Redmond hands me the container. I examine it for a moment, trying to find the right words. “Your son is a good man, you know that?”
Redmond produces a watery smile. “Too good, sometimes. I know Almas is angry Rake left, but he did it to make money to pay for Anastasia’s medical bills.”
“She doesn’t need my life story, dad.”
We turn to find Rake coming up the aisle. His face is as pale as I’ve ever seen it, and he attempts to hide his trembling hands by gripping his bag so tightly his knuckles are white.
“Perhaps another time,” I concede. “But we really have to get going. You wouldn’t happen to know what a sunscraper is, would you?”
Redmond shakes his head. “Can’t say I do, Princess.”
“Well, thanks for your help anyways,” I say before turning to Rake. “You should stay here with your sister. I can bring back the antidote once I’m done.”
Rake scoffs. “We’ve just spent the last eighteen hours riding all over the countryside. I’m seeing this through to the end.”
Redmond gives us some strawberry jam and bread for the journey, then escorts us to the main road. Suddenly it feels as if we’re back where we started, only now both of us are feeling the intense effects of exhaustion. Rake sways in his saddle once before he pours some water down the back of his shirt to wake himself up.
“Sunscraper, sunscraper, sunscraper,” Rake mutters to himself. “Sun scraper, suns craper.” He continues, trying out different words.
“Son’s Scraper?” I offer.
“What, like a woodworker?” Rake asks.
I shrug. “Or mining? To scrape the gemstones out?”
Corriveau has thrived on the gemstone trade for centuries. It was what drove people to the land in the first place. Veins of emerald, quartz, and ruby run all throughout the ground below, creating a thriving industry we’ve relied on from the very beginning. My own necklace I never take off is inlaid with rose quartz, the stone that promotes unconditional love and sympathy. The closest mine I can think of is only a short ride away, so we decide to start there.
The day shift is just trading off for the afternoon one when we arrive. We get a bunch of dirty looks – and it’s definitely not because of the soot covering their faces.
“Hey Princess, what are you doing here?” One man hollers. “You’ll get your dress dirty!”
This gets a mean chuckle from the rest of the miners. One even does a rather offensive impression of me, flipping his nonexistent hair and tripping over his own feet like a lush. I shift on the saddle, preparing to jump off my horse when Rake lays a hand on my arm.
“Don’t take the bait,” he whispers. “I don’t think you can threaten them all with the guillotine.”
“You underestimate me,” I whisper back. “I never use the same insult twice.”
Before he can say anything else, I swing down from my horse and walk up to the man. His lips curl into a smirk as I reach him. I look up at his face and attempt to look as menacing as possible, though it’s admittedly hard to do when the pin on his lapel is blinding me and his blonde beard is streaked with dirt and blood.
“What is your name, sir?”
The man snorts and raises his eyebrows. “Sir? Try Stan.”
“Well, I take it you have an issue with me?”
“I do,” he says bluntly. “I think you’re an entitled, spoiled brat who’s never worked a day in her life but expects everything to fall into her lap.”
“Well don’t hold back,” I mumble.
“You get by on a family name and your parent’s money and snub your nose at the poor.”
“That’s great, Sten.”
“That’s what I said. Thanks for being so lovely. Now I need to see your boss.”
“What’s the rush? I was just getting started,” Stan sneers.
“The rush is that my sister is dying, and unless you want me as your future queen, you better get out of my goddamn way and take me where I ask.”
Stan’s eyes widen marginally before he bellows out a laugh. I snap my fingers in his face to get him to stop, which only angers him further. He leans forward into my personal space, and a flash of yellow appears behind him.
“Look, little girl – I don’t know what you’re talking about. So take your frilly dress and your guard dog and get the hell out.”
I sigh. “I didn’t want to have to do this, Stew. But you leave me no choice.”
Suddenly, Rake practically materializes before me. We’ve attracted a crowd of miners, and I can practically see them holding their breath in anticipation. I stomp forward, ignoring the mud sucking at my shoes. Instead of stopping at Stan, I shove him aside as best as I can and keep walking. A slight girl with bright blonde hair is standing behind him, hidden by the other, taller men surrounding her.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Christy, Your Highness” she answers softly.
“And you’re a miner?”
“I’m going to take a guess and say Stan is your boss, yes?”
“And your father.”
She nods. I open my hand and tilt my palm up to the sky. Rake drops the star pin that Stan was wearing into my palm. I can hear Stan bellowing in anger behind me, but even he’s not brave enough to touch a member of the royal family . Instead of paying him any mind, I lean forward and attach the pin on Christy’s lapel.
“Now you’re the boss,” I smile. “And have full access to every mine, office, and anything else under your jurisdiction. The only thing I ask is that you give me your scraping tool.”
Without saying a word, Christy pulls a scraper out of her toolbelt and offers it to me. Her father is screaming now, obscenities I didn’t enough know existed.
“Thank you, Christy.” I say kindly. “Good luck with your business. I hope to hear from you soon!”
Rake has mounted his horse and led mine over, so we leave quickly. As we trot away from the miners, Rake bursts out laughing.
“You should’ve seen his face!” He chuckles.
“I can only imagine. I’m going to have someone check on Christy in a month – see if she’s still running the place. Stan’s never getting his position back.”
“How did you know it was Christy we were looking for?”
“I didn’t know, until I saw her hair. It was as bright as the sun.”
“A literal sun’s scraper.” Rake whispers. “Genius.”
I smile at his praise. “Let’s get these things back to Sybil.”
Sybil’s trailer seems to have broken down even further when we arrive. Though it’s only been a day, the wood is warped and the steps bow as we enter. Sybil is sitting on a pillow, legs crossed and hands resting palms up on her knees. Rake clears his throat, prompting her to crack an eye open. I shriek as blood dribbles out of her opened eye and down her cheek. She beckons us forward with a shaky finger, but I can’t stop myself from recoiling. Rake places a firm hand between my shoulder blades and walks forward with me. I fumble for the ingredients as Rake pulls out the scraper from his own bag.
Sybil cracks open her other bleeding eye as she gathers our ingredients and mixes them in mismatched pots all around her. Smoke rises, obscuring the trailer in a thick haze as she lights incense and strangely scented candles before mixing all the ingredients with water into a glass bottle. Sybil holds it up to the candlelight and examines the fluid. Disgusting pieces of dirt and cracked stones bob up and down in the thick, green water that has a vague odor of rotten strawberry. Sybil lifts it to her lips and takes a big swig, smacking her lips together once it goes down.
Almost instantaneously, the blood on her face dries up and flakes off into her lap. The cloudiness in her eyes swirls and clears, revealing sinister black orbs that seem to pierce right through me. She rises, straight as a rod and now much taller than me. Her menacing laugh fills the room as she moves forward, antidote in hand, gleaming dagger in the other. Rake tenses beside me as Sybil continues her slow but steady walk towards us.
“What are you doing?” I ask, taking a step backwards. My back slams against the wall of the trailer.
“You didn’t think I’d actually let you leave with such a powerful potion, did you?”
Rake has pulled out his sword, but I can tell he’s sure it won’t do much. Still, he’s holding it up and trying to look as intimidating as possible. Sybil has honed in on him and lifts her knife hand before lunging. Rake jumps back and ducks as Sybil charges forward. The two continue to spar, so I take the opportunity to fall to the floor and crawl to the opposite side of the trailer. Sybil has an array of harmless hand fans and ribbons adorning the walls, though I bet I would find weapons hidden all over the place if I had time to scavenge. Rake has been backed into a corner while Sybil continues to swipe at him. There’s no way I can grab the glass bottle from her hand without her noticing, and if I manage to grab it but drop it, all our hard work will be wasted on tattered linoleum. Still, I didn’t waste an entire day getting muddy and dirty in the countryside for an old hag to steal my last hope. With that thought, I rip a fan off of the wall to find it’s significantly heavier than my own decorative ones. I don’t have any time to wonder if it’s a combat fan, so instead I dart forward and slash at Sybil’s hand with the tip. She howls but grips the bottle tighter as she spins around to look at me with deadly eyes. She swipes viciously as I scuttle backwards on the ground.
“I wasn’t born yesterday,” she growls when she catches Rake sneaking up on her from behind.
“Clearly no one thought that.” I snicker.
Sybil shakes her head in disbelief and lunges at me again. This time, her blade makes contact with my dress, shredding it and leaving a deep gash down my calf. I hunch over to try and stop the blood flow with the tattered fabric while Sybil turns her attention back on Rake. She’s managed to slip the bottle into her apron pocket, and I can see it weighing down the fabric. The apron is tied both behind her neck and around her waist in a simple knot. Up until now, Sybil has been a fragile old woman, so I doubt the knots have been tied tightly. While Rake keeps her occupied, I stumble forward and grit my teeth as warm blood snakes down my leg. Rake is shouting now, trying to conceal the sound of my footsteps. I stretch my arms to grab each knot firmly in my hands. I’ve only got one shot to get this right, and with that thought, Sybil steps forward while I yank backwards, untying the knots deftly. She loses her balance from the opposing forces, giving me the opportunity to pull the entire apron off of her. Sybil pinwheels backwards and I step out of the way as Rake rushes her. He slams the hilt of his sword into her temple, and she goes unconscious.
We’re both breathing heavily as he turns to me. “Are you okay?”
I nod as he comes over. I hand him the apron so he can retrieve the glass bottle. Sybil’s dagger has fallen next to my foot, and I use it to cut the bottom half of my dress off, leaving it tea length. My leg continues to bleed severely, but for now I just wrap the fabric around it and tie a knot as tightly as I can.
“Well, at least we know the antidote works,” I quip.
Rake raises his eyebrows and tuts. “I guess you could say that. Now let’s go before she wakes up.”
We barricade the door so Sybil can’t leave until we send some more guards to retrieve her, then ride hard back to the palace. People are practically jumping out of the way to avoid being trampled as Rake and I reach the front gates. We swing off the horses and I snap for a guard to come and take them away before we sprint inside.
“You!” I shout, pointing a finger at the same fidgety maid from yesterday. “Where is my family?”
“I-in…Princess Leila’s room..m-miss…”
I manage to squeak out a thank-you between heaving breaths as Rake and I set off running again.
“Mom! Dad!” I call as Rake and I enter Leila’s room.
I rush forward and give them each a hug, feeling comfort I’ve been missing for so long. Rake stands off to the side until I call him over and take the antidote from him. Mom and dad are completely silent as I ramble on about the adventures we went through to get all the ingredients. Rake chimes in at times as well – he’s practically bouncing on his toes in excitement. The faster we finish up here, the sooner I can send him on his way to go to Anastasia.
“So we can save her!” I pant.
“Oh, Fawn,” mom sniffles. Now that I’ve calmed down, I can see the glossy tears shining in her eyes. Dad offers her a handkerchief and rubs her back, nearly in tears himself. I see Rake’s head turn and his jaw drop before I follow his gaze.
Behind me, Leila is lying on her bed peacefully. Her long brown hair is fanned out around her pillow and fragrant flowers are tucked all around her. I feel myself limp over to the bed, watch myself see grey skin and blue lips, feel my hands wipe endless tears from my face.
“We knew it was serious,” mom says as she places an arm around me. “We just didn’t want you to worry.”
“Rake,” I whisper.
Rake is by my side in a second. I raise my hand limply and place the bottle in his hand.
“Go. It’s over.”