Odette sighed as Casimir stormed off. He was almost as stubborn as she was, and definitely more ornery. Even still, he was the only chance she had to find out more about those woods. Though Casimir seemed to have warmed up to Odette slightly, she felt as if he had withdrawn himself again.
So she’d have to find answers herself.
Just like her last spy mission, Odette trailed Casimir and waited for him to ascend the stairs to his room. That first meal they had shared together, Casimir told her to stay away from the building on the bridge, and so far Odette had obeyed.
But no longer.
If he was secretive about the woods and also about the room, Odette would bet money – not that she had any – on the two being connected. It was a bit of a stretch, but Odette would rather grasp at one straw than at air.
A gusting breeze teasing the beginning of fall ruffled Odette’s hair as she made her way across the bridge. Her heart dropped into her stomach at not only the height, but the waist-high parapet as well. It was a perfect recipe for a damning fall, especially with the cavern below. With a final look over her shoulder, Odette scurried as fast as she could across the bridge and laid a hand on the handle.
Surprisingly, the door swung open with ease. Odette wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t a child’s room.
As she made her way deeper into the room, she gasped at the two urns displayed in the corner. Flowers of all varieties were tucked around and below the urns, and a bust of a beautiful woman separated them. Not a speck of dust rested in the room, yet still Odette moved cautiously.
She peaked into the bassinet to find a shredded teddy bear, it’s stuffing spilled out all over the worn blanket. One eye was missing, leaving only a frayed string in it’s place. Droplets of what could only be blood splattered the mattress underneath, some of it bright red. The only thing masking the coppery smell was the flowers. The cloying odor brought Odette to the urns and bust.
Odette knelt down and squinted at the fine cursive engravings.
Queen Isabella Beatrice D’Vaile
Queen, mother, leader. Once known and feared, now gone and forgotten.
King Victor Elric D’Vaile
Iron fist, iron heart.
Odette’s heart seemed to drop further into her stomach. Without a doubt these were Casimir’s parents, and she couldn’t help but compare Elliott to King Victor. Her father was kind, gentle, and sometimes naive, but always wiling to rectify his mistakes. She shuddered at the inscription on King Victor’s urn. It was no stretch of the imagination to see a King of iron bend the malleable metal of his son into a thing as twisted as he. And to have no mother, of course Odette could relate, but she couldn’t imagine fearing the woman who had held her as a child.
And the bust. A name was engraved on the bottom pedestal, but someone had touched the inscription so much that it had begun to fade. Still, Odette could just make out the first word.
“What are you doing here?”
Odette shrieked and fell back, slamming her hand into the floor just in time to stop herself from falling. She stumbled to her feet and turned to face the door, ready to defend herself against Casimir’s harsh words.
She was shocked to find Jean-Luc.
“Jean-Luc!” Odette greeted. “I know I shouldn’t be in here-”
“You’re right,” Jean-Luc ground out. “You shouldn’t.”
At the venom in his tone, Odette stepped back and bumped into the baby shoes hanging on the wall. Casimir’s name was imprinted on the bottom, and she stopped to smile. It was hard to imagine a man as serious as Casimir as a baby, bumbling around in baby booties.
“We have rules, Ms Champagne.”
Jean-Luc’s angry voice brought Odette back to the present. He had walked forward and now stood in front of the urns, blocking Odette.
“Have you no respect for the D’Vaile family?”
Odette paused for a moment before retorting. “I mean, judging from the writing on the urns, no one really had respect for them either.”
“Liar!” Jean-Luc shouted. “They were wonderful leaders. You should be ashamed of yourself for speaking of them in any other light. What would the Master do if he found you here?”
“I’m sorry!” Odette choked out. “I’ll go.”
When she tried to step towards the door, Jean-Luc stepped in her path to block her.
“I knew it was a mistake for the Master to give you a room, let you eat the food here, wear such fine clothing! Peasants don’t belong in the palace, and no matter how much makeup you plaster on your face, you’re still just a bumpkin from an illiterate village.”
“And no matter how many handkerchiefs you own or workers you manage, you’re still a man living in a dream of your own creation!” Odette shot back. “Now move.”
Odette clenched her jaw and dug her fingernails into her palms. “If you don’t get out of my way right now, I’ll-”
“You’ll what? Tell your precious Casimir? It’s me against you, Ms Champagne. Your word against mine.”
Odette brought a hand up to smack Jean-Luc, but he caught it swiftly and a violent electric shock went through her.
And then it all went dark.
Odette groaned and blinked rapidly, trying to open her heavy eyelids. Her body felt like a heavy rock, pinning her to the ground like a butterfly under a entomologist’s pin. When she finally managed to move to a sitting position, the room seemed to swirl around her. One thing was for sure – this was not her room, and this was not the nursery. The smell of campfire smoke wafted through the air, and a constant dripping came from somewhere in the corner. A rotten apple rolled across the uneven floor and bumped Odette’s foot, bringing her into the present. She finally focused on her dress, shocked to find rags draping her body.
Odette squinted at the window in the corner. There was no way this was Casimir’s palace – nothing covered the windows, though their stain glass did prevent much of the light from coming through.
Odette pushed herself to her feet and stumbled over to the graffiti slurred across the walls. She delicately touched her finger to it and pulled away. Blue paint was smudged across her finger.
Someone had been here recently.
Casimir shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had been in the dining room for over an hour now waiting on Odette, chalking her tardiness up to losing track of time in the library. He rubbed a hand on the space between his eyebrows, trying to quell yet another headache. After snapping at Odette, he fled to his room in anger, though he was only upset with himself. Odette was merely curious, and she had no way to tell that Casimir had a deep, personal connection to those woods.
The door creaked open, and Casimir perked up.
“Sorry, just me sugar!”
Casimir deflated at Cherie’s entrance.
“Don’t look too happy to see me, now.” She laughed, placing a drink in front of him.
“Sorry,” Casimir said. “I thought you were Odette.”
“Still no sign of her? The crab cakes are getting cold.”
Casimir sighed and placed his chin on his hands.
“You want my advice?” Cherie asked, pulling out a chair to sit in. “Don’t answer that – you’ll get some anyways.” She laid a hand on Casimir’s shoulder. “It’s been a while since you’ve had to treat somebody as your equal. But Odette deserves nothing but your respect, and I think once you learn the correct way to treat her, she’ll treat you the same way.”
“I try!” Casimir practically shouted. “I…just can’t figure out how to do it.”
“You can start with acting as if you actually want to be around her.”
“I do.” Casimir said quietly. “And I’ll try.”
“Good! Now, I’m sure she’ll be here any-”
Cherie and Casimir turned to see Jean-Luc panting in the doorway, arms resting on the frame.
“I tried to stop her, but-”
Casimir sprung up from his seat and stormed over to Jean-Luc. “What happened to her?”
“I ran after her, but the wolves! They howled and growled, and-and, I didn’t get there in time.”
“This is all I found.”
Jean-Luc held up Odette’s aquamarine ring, and Casimir gasped.