The musty smell of rotting wood, of fresh grain and hay was not a scent one would expect to linger in the air of any part of the lavishly decorated castle. Nor would one expect it to be a house to large and hungry flies that constantly buzzed around your head despite how many times they faced the death of the palm of your hand. It was there however, as well as the sharp scent of leather and soggy bails of hay within the royal stalls.
Eden stood within them, ankle deep in the damp chippings of the royal horse stall and the smell of manure pushing out the musk scent of cleaned leather. The day was cooler than it had been, the air less heavy than but a few days ago though it did not make the tedious work of shoveling sand and bedding filled with droppings into the large bucket behind him, for all the while the buzz of flies played in his ears and made the horses around him whine in protest to their existence.
He had been in the stables a few times, but never before had he stayed amongst the hay bails and large beast long enough to catch sight of the stable boy’s work or to even feel the blood drawing bites of horse flies. He had gone with Grahn to ready the horses for hunts, to get his small pony for training back when he was but a small child just learning the ways of his future. He stood within the stall now. Not readying horses for a pleasing ride through the fields around them or to the trails of forest at the foot of every mountain, but doing the aching job of the only other younger boy within the castle walls.
The former prince had never thought he would be dragged back within the home he sought to escape so soon after he was nearly handed back into the prison of his tower room. He had assumed, or perhaps hoped, that the guild would leave him out of affairs within the castle for some time, however upon the coming morning of such a wonderfully cool day he had been roused from his sleep and not even given the time to bath and eat before he was told to leave.
He must have been within a deep sleep for it took much effort to rouse his body from long sleep. It was just as the blur of dreams had started to fad and his eyes opened up to the hazy shapes of crowds around that he made out their talk of him, however it sounded much like having balls of cotton in his ears.
“Maybe he’s dead.” One laughed loudly and despite the early morning he sounded as though he had already had his day’s fill of ale.
“Naw that can’t be. He ben sleepin’ fer nearly all of yesterday and all of last night!” Another, argued, one that sounded much like a woman, said so quickly and through his half open eyes he could see the foggy features of eyes and a nose moving closer.
“See!” She sounded excited and he watched, with sickening dizziness, as she shot up so quickly, jabbing a finger to the brig of his nose.
“Told ya he was livin’!”
Conversation became dulled after that. Voices blended together as though creating the many tones and changing pitches of a monstrous demon that hovered over his bed in the most menacing of ways.
“”Ey don’ shut yer eyes again!” he heard though he had hardly been able to understand the meaning of the strung together sounds.
“I said git up!” The same woman punctured his sleep with her words, with the cheers of other’s near by egging him into waking. He could not move however, or at least his mind seemed to confuse and mix together the events of his dreams with his current reality for everything mad as much scenes as one.
It was much like being in a nightmare after that, for what started as a light nudge to wake him turned into fingers grasping the thin cloth of his shirt and pulling him about. In the darkness of his dazed mind it felt much like being pulled through the endlessness of death, for his mother had told him stories of tainted souls looking for the afterlife without their eyes to guide them.
The drugging effect of sleep seemed to be pushed up from his small frame only when it hit the ground at the thieves’ feet with a heavy thud. His eyes had opened as he fell and for the slightest of seconds he was torn back in time to his fall from the tower and his heart nearly jumped from his body while his breath was held in his chest. It still panicked as he lay on the floor, still rushed to pump blood quickly through his viens.
He sat to his knees on his own and in a dazed manner caught sight of the blurred faces of before. There was but one woman in the crowd, or so he thought for he was sure to hear her voice. Out of the three before him there was only one that could possible be a girl for their skin seemed softer than the other’s under the heavy coat of dirt and, despite her hair being cropped short and tucked under a rag she had tied around her crown, the cut looked to be more feminine, if at all possible. Her eyes were a bit larger and her hands small as a childs, but still she looked much like the taller men behind that laughed down at him…however not so much as the drunken man who slurred even when he laughed and who’s stomach poked out from his shirt.
“I welcome ya back from sleep!” She laughed.
Much like a stray cat being plucked from a barrel, the well built man behind, with his rough hands, lifted him up by the tuft of shirt behind his neck. He was much relieved that he was not simply expected to stay standing on his unsteady legs that ached with the crawling pains of sleep for he was still trying to see past the light of the lit candles in his room and torches on his walls that gave off a hinted scent of wax and burning oil. He wondered how bright the day was and how comforting it would be to wake to a breath of mountain chilled air. Eden knew he would miss sleeping above ground and taking in his first sight of warm sun every morning.
“What do you want?” Eden asked, though found his words as strung together as the drunk’s had been.
He pawed away the hand on the back of his neck until it moved away from his lose shirt as he reached up to feel the relaxing pull of his muscles, the cuffed sleeves of his shirt sliding on his arms to his scabbed elbows. He had been gone from the castle for only just over a week now and he had gained more wounds then he believed he would ever get in a year, for in the castle the most he ever had were bruises from training or a bump on the head from the back of his father’s ringed hand.
“We were sent ta wake ya.” Said the woman thief as Eden let his arms swing down to his side.
He was not given even a moment to smooth out his tangled hair or to pick the sands of sleep from the corners of his eyes before, both the woman and sober man, reached out to taking hold of his bare wrist and pulled him forward. The drunk seemed to have tumbled from his room already. They themselves did not move. Only the power behind their arms had propelled him forward and stumbling through his open door into the narrow hall. He did not stop where he liked however, for his feet kept moving to keep under his body and soon he was pressed against the door across from him, their leader’s door.
With his small body laying flat against the wood as it was, Eden could feel the moving of the handle before his eyes could catch sight of its movement, however before he could step back from the opening door he found his eyes on the white of a man’s shirt fitted to the elegant curves of a woman and no longer on the darkness on an un-sanded door.
He felt back with his bare foot, feeling the soft boards on his toes as he reached them as far as his legs would stretch. As he lifted his chin to meet her eyes he let his body follow the retreating motion in the ever awkward manner.
She held a smile, though the morning must have been early if she was just now leaving her room, not even fully dressed, or so he assumed her to not be for she wore only a shirt that reached her thighs and the tight fitting pants that knights often wore under their armor. There was gentleness to her grey eyes however, one he had not noticed the very first day she held him as prisoner, a kind of warm glow in the torch light that stole away any thought that she would not protect him.
“You look a wonderful mess.” she commented.
She reached forward to pull up the tangled hair over the grassy eyes he seemed to struggle in the battle to open wide to greet the day, however there was not much to see within the halls other than the glow of torches and the somehow awakenes of every person bellow. It seemed as though none slept, for at night they were lively, and now, in morning, they seemed just the same. Still she held his bangs to the crown of his head, and still, with his skin pale from long rest, he looked up to her. His leader studied, with perceptive eyes the childish curve of his jaw and the small shape of his nose. He could feel her gaze wherever her starlight eyes happened to land on his familiar face.
“I gave you a full day of sleep.” She snapped, her fingers untangling themselves from his hair though his bangs did not drop over his eyes for it was still stiff with sleep and appeared to almost stay where it was placed. The gentle greeting he saw in her eyes was replaced it seemed, by the strict power of his leader.
“Wake up!” was an order given, spoken as an open hand rattled his tiered mind in a light tap to the back of his head.
“You two!” She called and though Eden had not look up he only assumed she spoke to the thieves still in his room.
“Close that door and quickly take him to eat.”
“What about a bath?” Eden asked, feeling as though he needed one for his skin itched from his extended rest without break for meal or drink.
“No time for that,” was all she answered.
He was taken hold of, however unlike before, when one would drag him by his shoulders like he was being lead to his execution, the woman took hold of his hand and he was rushed along down the mine like halls.
The meal he was promised was nothing more than a snack for the starving boy, for when he was taken above to the sun light inn he was rushed to the door instead of the table where the wafting scent of blackberries and hot bread with melted butter watered his tongue. He had kept looking back over his shoulder to the table where tiered looking men slept, trying to show the thieves his pleading eyes as he was taken to the front door.
It was none other than Ellie who stood behind her desk that saw his pleading looks towards the ever slimming amount of food.
“’ey!” She called her bare feet quick to move around the small stand and towards the food he looked at with so much want and hunger that it would pain even the well fed lords.
The thieves stopped at her call to them. It seemed odd to Eden however for she did not call a name or even make a motion to whom she was speaking with though only the female thief who pulled him along so quickly stopped to look back.
“What is it Ellie!?” She complained.
“Were runin’ late as is!”
Soon even the sober man was at their side, just now moving up through the stairs, with, what looked like a thickly stuffed pack under his arms, to hand to Akistu his deer skinned boots. The newest thief hadn’t realized he was without cover for his feet until he saw his longed for shoes in the others bear sized hands.
“The boy can’t go out an help ya without at least a little ta eat.” With these words she walked over, a few slices of bread and melted butted in one hand and a handful of sour berries in the other. She smiled to him as she reached out, placing the berried in the chest pocket of his shirt and the bread into his free hand.
He knew he would always be grateful to her, for even though he hated to be treated much like a child she did it anyways. In a way he knew he would become half starved within a week without her around to check his wounds and make sure he ate every morning and night, for only she bothered to bring him small portions of meals and only she seemed to act as the mother he had left behind…however when the sun fell the leader of the guild seemed to take that place as well.
“Thank you.” Eden managed to get in, catching not but a glimpse of her pleased smile before he was taken from the inn, hopping one foot at a time as he was dragged and putting on his boots at the same time.
They had hardly told him a thing when they rushed so quickly through the city, however he was thankful to take back his hand when it was dropped for while they ran through the allies he finished the bread and now hungered for the sweat taste of distancing summer in his pocket.
Several times, as they passed through the crowded streets and merchant stands, he asked where he was going, what he was to do, however they didn’t answer. There was no need for when he saw the dirt path to the castle, and took notice they had not turned once their entire trip down the coble stone road he knew their destination, and his entire self seemed to sink in knowing he was to return so soon. When he left the castle as his home he had never once had any desire to go back. In fact Eden believed he would never again have to step on it’s grounds though it seemed he had spent near every day in and out, sneaking around through the halls in hopes that a knight wouldn’t recognize him or a maid would not scream at the thought of their late prince’s ghost wondering the corridors and haunting their home.
He was not taken through the front gates in any sly manner or shown any trick by the thieves on how they may have managed to slide by the guard post and over the draw bridge unnoticed. In fact it was quite a deal simpler than Eden ever thought it to be, for often in court his father would complain about their defenses. He would say that if mere thieves could get past his walls than who is to say intruders can not as well.
He was taken up the road however before even the keen eyes of the watch guards could catch sight of their arriving group they moved from the road and into the light fields bedside them. The grass was tall, or at least to Eden it seemed that way for at the base of his tower it was soft and short and yet here it had dried to a dull yellow and reached about his waist in height to prickle his arm as he passed each blade. It hide him quite well as they kept low on both hands and knees however the young thief could not help but worry for the field was so thick he could not see where they were headed. They not longer walked to the castle, for it seemed the thieves followed an invisible line just out of sight of the watch guards above the drawbridge. Instead the thieves took the sight of his prison away as they crawled instead to towards the woods where a snowy silence seemed to reside. Their past changed however, he could feel the pressing quiet of the forest distance as they neared the high walls. He could see the very top of the castle’s towers and even hear the quiet movements of the muddy water within the mote and feel the damp air around it.
They were to the side of the castle, Eden noticed only when he was allowed to stand and see fully the flat edge of the wall. Unlike the inner construction of the castle, where the main chambers were and his tower room, the walls here were flat and smooth, making it near impossible to scale in any way. The grass at the edge of the mote was bent flat over the edge, as if the water was pulling it down or perhaps the field protected the castle as well, tricking intruders on where the edge of the drop into deep waters truly was. Eden was told to stay put, looking down to his blurred reflection on the wide, manmade gap of water, though from where he stood, half hidden in grass, he could see constructed bridges made from oak and trees slowly being pushed across the deep waters and as simple as it was the invention itself ingenious. His father was always looking for clever and complicated ways for them to enter the castle. Ways such as a hole being punctured in his walls or inventions to pull their starved bodies up and over his castle and so many more possibilities that only a old military man would imagine, that he would never dare to think it was so simple as a wooden bridge across his mote.
It seemed steady over the deep waters and yet still, when Eden was pulled near it, he felt uneasy as he looked down to the waters that had claimed intruders before, or so his father had claimed. The wood looked to be strong and not yet rotted from the rain’s of late nor the mites that would eat at it’s insides during the distancing summer, though as his foot came down on the very tip that rested on the edge of the field he felt the thin bridge sink under his feet. It had indeed absorbed the water from rain.
Worry struck his grassy eyes as he looked up, though not to the woman thief who waved her hand at him to try and draw Eden faster across the bridge, but to the top of the castle walls where guards walked back and forth with sharp eyes always looking across the fields and down the sleek walls of their king’s castle. Though he could not see the allure where the many guards walked, he knew, by common sense alone, that they would be drawing near and would see him cross their defenses.
He had hurried across than, bothering not to look down to his feet or even the listen to the scrambled thoughts in his mind. His arms were stretched out to ether side only to center his weight and his eyes forward on the thief who waited so eagerly, her eyes shifting with nervous quickness from him to the allure windows above. Eden nearly dove into the bent grass on the other end when it was so close to the tips of his toes. In fact if it wasn’t for the two thieves there to catch him in his clumsy run he was sure he would have landed face down on the other side.
It was not only the way in which they crossed the murky waters of the mote, but in the way they managed over the smooth outer walls of the castle that made the former prince unsure if he should laugh or feel foolish. Eden had spent mere days in his free time just pondering this, for during the only times he was able to leave the castle in summer to hunt with Grahn and his father he had caught site of the outer wall and witnessed just how impossible it was to clime for not even the tips of one’s fingers could grasp stone.
His young mind, so desperate to escape the lectures of his tutor, would always think of the oddest of ways for the thieves to scale the walls. He imagined them chipping away at a part in the stone to make foot holes in the limestone. He imagined them burrowing under the ground like moles or even, to satisfy his creativity, he imagined them inventing wings one could strap on their back and they simply flew over. That is far from what actually happened however.
During the rains often the courtyards would become flooded, as well as the outer yard of the palace. It was for the fear of their castle drowning in rain that under each wall was an opening with iron bars to block off each entrance. Inside was almost like a sewer, only when it would become filled the water would spill from the arch openings and spill into the mote.
The bars were rusted from the wetness of the current days and over each auburn colored iron was a thin coat of white fuzz that faced the sewer. Eden watched, quite disappointed, as the woman thief got to her knees before the grate and pulled free the rusted bars from the stone holding. They had, in fact, gown so weak that the minimal strength of man was enough to pull it free. If he was loyal to his father and in fact wanting to become king Eden knew for sure he would bring up this flaw filled system in counsel.
He was helped to press his small body to the damp grass by the grate, however the movement into the castle sewers proved much easier for Eden with his small size than it seemed to be for the two thieves who traveled with him, however still he found his cloths wet with water for he was helped in head first and the drop was longer than he had thought.
“Grab this.” The man ordered with only his hand sticking down into the space under the outer wall.
Shaking his hands of dark water he trudged through the knee deep murk, so calm and unmoving that all the filth rest at his booted feet now stirred, for possible the first time since a thief last used this entrance. Eden assumed that to be a mere few days ago when Mikan followed him into the castle during his near impossible test.
“There are cloths for you in there.” He said.
Eden slowly backed up, the bag held tight to his chest as he watched the bottoms of the grown thief’s feet reach down for the water’s rippling surface. Everything echoed within these tunnels. Something as simple as the drops of water that fell from Eden ’s shirt was made a long note and the sound just as loud as the knock on a door in a soundless night.
“Wait till we get out of here to change into the.” He continued, the water splashing, the sound bouncing off walls and making enough noise to alert any man within a mile of these tunnels. The thief didn’t seem at all to mind however, for with his strong strides more of the same splashes were made around his legs.
Eden did as he was told, for his rough hand grasped tightly his shoulder, not to lead, but to face the young thief in the right direction, however if he so much as hesitated in his stepping or looked back to where the woman splashed into the water behind, he was sure he would stumble for the water made it much to hard to move his feet as quickly as the grown man seemed to do with ease.
It wasn’t for long that they traveled within the under ground sewers of the castle however, for new light shown through yet another archway opening, in the very same shape as the small bared windows within the higher up prison cells. It wasn’t the only one for in their travels their way was light with these barred openings, the only light being the glisten of the sun in arch shaped beans on the unmoved water.
His arm was dropped, the thief no longer interested in holding him close, but instead it prying free the iron bars in the opening. He himself being a tall man, had to stand high on the tips of his toes within the water just to hold a firm grasp of iron before he pulled it free.
“You must be quick.” He instructed.
Eden felt a light hand in the center of his back, the woman, he assumed, that only granted him a light push forward to the waiting hand of the thief, the water rippling around his knees and the waves of filth heavy liquid creating the crashing sound of river rapids within the echoing halls. The stink however, seemed eternal. The longer they stayed within the tunnels the more it felt, to Eden , that the smell was burrowing deep under the layers of his skin..
“Put on the bag.” Another order Eden did not hesitate to obey, for with swift movement the leather sling was over his arm and the moist feel of the other’s hands, soggy and slime covered from the touch to the mossy bars, pulled him forward to stand, looking up to where the sun of day shown threw the opening.
“This will bring you up into the outer court yard.” The thief continued in a silence that could not even echo within the underground corridor.
He cupped his hands, to imitate a sling, just above the surface of the murky water. Eden had only to study the hunched look of the man, his braced shoulders and anticipating gaze to understand what he was to do. His grass colored eyes still gazed down to the hand as he pressed his own to the greasy stone, feeling soft fungus push out thick water between his fingers as he leaned against it to lift up one muddy boot into the man’s hand. He tried to ignore the cool sluge that oozed down his hands, however being brought up within the castle where every night he was to bath, Eden found it difficult to take in such filth within only a week or so of his being absent from his former life.
“You will come up near the stable.” His voice was strained with the effort of helping the small thief up to the opening within the wall.
“When you rise be silent and quick in getting into it.”
His fingers helped to guide his lifted body up to the invited scent of fresh air and the warming feel of sun to dry the water he was covered in. Eden reached up as he was lifted, his fingers bending around the edge and his breath held in his chest as he bent his elbows and pushed down hard on the other’s hands as he attempted to lift his now heavy body up and out of the water. Soon it wasn’t his fingers that held him on the wall, but his entire arm as he bent forward, his elbows digging painfully in the sand dusted stone of the castle court yard. He could hear it grind against his skin and the sun warm stone as he pulled himself into the light once more. It was closer to the inner walls where Azuki’s tower still stood and where the main doors to his father’s palace where grass grew, for everywhere else was the rugged feeling of coarse stone.
With a final push on the bottom of his boot and the last of the poor strength in Eden ’s arms the small thief crawled away from the opening, the bag feeling heavy on his shoulder.
“Quickly!” hissed the thief for Eden had stayed lying out on the warm stone, feeling the water crust on his wrinkled shirt, and soaking up as much of the warm sun on the skin of his face as he could, for he knew if he was caught, a common fear whenever he touched his father’s grounds, he would never feel the sunlight again.
It was as Eden scampered to his feet that he heard the thief again, however this time it was the silent woman who woke him that spoke through the opening.
“Find the cloths in the bag an’ change.”
He looked back as he ran towards the royal stables, just seeing her pressed against the floor as she pulled herself onto the stones he dampened with his own body.
The thieves had met him soon after he ran to the stables. He was met, not by guards, as he assumed, but a small boy, just a hair shorter than he though perhaps years older, though the prince had the uncanny feeling this boy was in fact much younger for the former prince often heard that the hard working aged much faster with sun to age their skin and harsh times to wither their bones.
This boy in particular held a rough look to his skin, one that resembled almost a piece of bread lightly toasted over the dull glowing embers of a fire. He had a similar face structure, Eden noticed, however with his sunken in cheeks the prominate cheek bone they both shared soo awkwardly large on him.
“You late.” Scolded the small boy in such a way that Eden had never been, for this stable boy spoke as his father did to his maids.
“Did you thieves expect me to wait around all day? I had enough trouble getting rid of the guards just so you wouldn’t be caught.”
The boy snatched the bag that hung loose on Eden ’s shoulder with enough aggravation and snapping motion that, if the touchy tone of his voice wasn’t enough, one would easily tell of his annoyance. The young thief watched the boy dump the contents of the bag into the hay, seeing the cloths he was to change into spill out at his feet, however along with that he found something much more interested. Within the mass of pens and tightly capped ink e saw the thin paper to the long stolen castle blue prints. These thieves had needed him to unsure the correct roots and authenticity of the map.
The boy swept the cloths from the ground into his hands, his eyes studying them much as a merchant would study fine goods to be sure of their value.
“These would do.” He spat.
The cloths were tossed to Eden and he stumbled to catch them before being pushed to an empty stall to change.
The clothing was light. The pants not even reaching his ankles however the over grown working boots hide them well, and the shirt was lighter than air it seemed, however under the thick beret he wore his hair was damp with the moist stink of the sewer water.
Both the man and woman had entered the barn that smelt so strongly of horse and leather, but seconds after Eden had managed the transformation from a run away prince to a working stable boy. He assumed he looked much different in the tight pants and loose shirt of a boy living only on minimal salary from guards. The hat was given to him merely to hide his near famous face.
He had been left behind to work as hard as the young boy did every day of his life for the reason the thieves thought reasonable. They could not very well walk about the castle as they currently were, smelling of sludge and looking ragged and drowned compared to the luxuries of the castle. While the stable boy was granted leave for the remainder of the morning Eden was told to shovel manure and feed the horses grain and bails of hay from the fields. He was shown how to clean the horses; how to saddles one, and even how to pick the dirt out from their hooves, however much of the skills he found he had already known for Grahn often taught him many things his father would think unfit for a prince to know.
Hours, it seemed he had been waiting for the sun, no longer cast in morning beams through the small windows, to reach its peek and beat down hard on the stone in the court yard as it set itself high in the desert blue above. The work for the morning had been done, though it was completed slowly, he assumed, for several times a guard would come by the stables to be sure his horse was given extra attention. Usually such requests were offered with the flip of a gold coin in Eden ’s direction. However the guards often laughed at his slow work and clumsy hands.
He lay in the piles of hay near noon his body damp with the sweat of hard work when a group of fully suited knights walked into his stables. He merely pushed his elbows down into the prickling points of hay when they entered and squinted against the light that seemed to embellish their sluggish entrance. They hardly seemed to notice the exhausted looking boy however for it seemed their need was much the same as his and wanted nothing more than a place to rest for some time, for by their conversation it seemed as though the castle was thick with tension that their king would lob the head off of any who protested to his word. No matter the insanity of it.
Eden dare not let his body be prickled by the comforting hay as the four filed in, a skin sack in their hands filled with, he assumed, not cool water, but ale. The horses whined as knights made so much noise in the small barn, tossing foot stools, used to get woman onto horses, towards the shaded back and position them where they wanted to sit. Soon all gathered into the coolest part of the stable where the air was so thickly scented with grain and the shade relayed a comforting blanket to hide the nearing noon sun.
As they spoke Eden picked up the broom that leaned lazily on the wood beside him, for even their murmurs held a tone of gossip that was most common used between the maids or the queen’s ladies. His bright eyes stayed to the dusty ground as he slowly, effortlessly moved the broom back and forth over the dust at his feet. It only swarmed in thick clouds before dropping again, however he only had to look as if he was forcing his aching body into tiered work. Still there was the need to move closer, and so, keeping only to the edge of the walls, he pushed the dust forward, as if gathering a pile to simple push out into the wind of the cool day, however all he did was stand but inches behind the loud men. Their whispered conversation was clear to him now.
“-the thieves killed them?” asked one just as Eden walked within range of their talk.
“I wouldn’t be surprised with their lot.” Another laughed, leaning back in the hay as his parched throat took greedily the drink from his pouch.
“I heard that the king believes a knight murdered them.” these whispered words from a young knight in the bunch only drew them all tight into a circle. Eden did not realize, however he too had looked up and leaned in close on the broom to hear better the whispered rumors that had been traveling the palace in his leave.
“This king thinks it was-“
“Hey! You boy!” It was a shout from the entrance, though it startled Eden . His heart, that seemed frozen with anticipation, beat as fast as a rabbit could run, and in the scare of the booming voice his broom clattered to the floor and he, having used it for support, nearly fell with it.
He stood still, his booted feet glued to the as the four knights who spoke glanced over looking both to him and behind to the upper knight who walked in through the open double doors. He had realized they did not even notice he was there, listening until their superior made his entrance.
“Are you deft!?” The knight behind questioned.
It had taken Eden but an instant to remember who exactly the knight was addressing, for being called things such as boy was a title he was not all that used to hearing for himself.
With a bowed head he turned, but did not approach the man for he feared this would be a guard who knew his face or, if not, he would smell the fear around Eden …that or the stink of the sewer.
“Ready the Kings horse.” He ordered.
“Yes sir.” Eden answered as his feet rustled the hay around his feet. He had left the broom where it was on the floor, abandoning the conversation that still played in his mind, however small it was.
He moved to his father’s horse. He was a pretty thing with slick smooth black fur that glistened in the sun and with strong study legs. Any horse that would carry his father needed to be a strong steed. He pet it’s long mane as he entered, his child hands reaching up to pat gently it’s long nose and it seemed to sigh under his touch.
“Not that horse you fool!” The knight shouted. The loud nose had not only startled the prince it seemed, for the horse shouted in distaste to the noise, and it’s head bucked up while the back hooves knocked at the wood behind him.
“Fetch the other horse. For the King of Serona he leaves now!”
The king of Serona? Eden questioned the words his small ears had taken in, for very rare it was that such a powerful king bothered to enter Asmalen lands for the only reason he had done so before was to see his power still held in the small kingdom. In a way the former prince had always thought Seron only paid visits to be sure the king still allied with him, for always the new ruler seemed eager for the slightest excuse to take over their mountain kingdom.
Eden quickened instead to the stall beside where a grayed horse stood just as strongly as his father’s.
“You men stand at once.” The large man who filled out every space within his armor, and more, called to them. The well fed appearance of this knight only lead Eden to believe he was, quite possibly, a war lord for his father had them present during the times Seron paid them visits and every last one looked to have spent the entire day feasting on chickens and pig.
At once the knights stood with their armor sounding as heavy as it must be. The clatter of tin only made the horses ears pull back and Eden , if he was not to keen to listen, wished he could do the same for the sound was most unpleasant.
“You men should be at your posts!” He scolded though his dominating voice distanced as he walked further back.
Eden heard the murmur of one of the men he addressed, followed by a bout of laughter from the larger man. He merely assumed the higher up was invited into their group for from over the wood, shaved away by the strong teeth of the horse, he could see the war lord take a seat upon a stool, given by a much younger knight. The younger instead took a comforting spot atop a rolled bail of hay and closer to the sweetly scented bags of grain that hung on large hooks in the soft walls.
Once more the knights leaned forward in huddled conversation, and as before young Eden strained to hear what was said between them. Excuse he had now to inch his way closer to the talking knights, for to saddle a horse he had to tie it securely to the post towards the end. Although he could use one further away Eden thought, in his current low class state, they would hardly think he mattered much at all for he was not a royal or apart of the thieves they spoke down to but a stable boy who they would think could hardly write let alone understand most of what they spoke of.
In strength alone Eden knew the steed could pull him about in any direction it pleased to go, however all the horses owned by man were always so well trained for her followed Eden when the young thief had nothing more than a light grasp of the leather straps of his bit. Only a hum of hushed conversation was heard over the hooves that hit the wood with enough noise to bring unease to Eden , for he feared they would turn to face him as he neared ear rage to their conversation. No attention was paid however, for all seemed so engrossed even as the steed was halted so close and Eden , with eyes that locked onto each man, slowly tied the horse to the post.
“The king thinks that?” The war lord laughed.
The knights nodded, another taking a swig from his sac.
“I ‘eard it was tha’ snake Kirimont tha’ put the thought in our king’s head.”
“I still think it was those thieves that killed them. They probably killed that guard in the village too!”
“The guard?” Eden gasped when he heard his own quiet voice betray him in his knowledge.
The five fully grown knights looked over to him, however quick he was in turning to the horse before running back to the stable to fetch the royal’s gear. It was but the glair from the knights that scared him away, however he feared they suspected him.
Eden held the saddle in his arms, its weight threatening to pull him down to the earth however he leaned back, feeling the leather slip with the sweat from his palms. Weary he was to go back to where the King’s horse was left for he feared the moment he stepped into their view again all their eyes would still be locked upon him. Eden could not possible risk so many paying such close attention for not only was he an escaped prince, but now a thief on a mission to tear down their king’s defenses.
“What do you think the king will do?”
Eden heard these words as if pressing his ear to a thick door. He walked slowly over, feeling ease in knowing their troublesome eyes of fire would not be on him, to place the saddle on a bench beside the horse for is slipped from his sweat covered hand with nearly every second passed. He would not reach its back without a stool, however the knights occupied them all.
As timid as a starving boy should be he approached the men, though he was sure not to travel too fast for he wished to hear more of their thoughts and to move quickly would dray their hunter’s eyes towards him.
“I suppose the king will go to Grahn’s room himself.”
At hearing his name Eden nearly turned to run for he was sure an expression of surprised horror showed on his face and his feet seemed almost to meet an invisible edge when they faltered in their progress forward. He was noticed it seemed, for all the while a quiet man faced him and now, Eden realized, he looked at him with questioning eyes.
“You boy!” He had been addressed much the same way as before, only now it was that quiet young knight with his smooth and feminine voice not yet scared with the heaviness of age.
The man stood so slowly, his sack of ale placed to the hay dusted ground. It seemed almost like illusion, for sitting as he once was, with his knees to his chest and his back rounded, the man looked to be no taller than five feet however as he stood he towered high as if growing as one of the large trees just at the base of their mountain.
“What is it you want?” He asked.
Eden let his eyes fall to the stool he had just stood from for he did not much trust such a perceptive man to not pinpoint his royal accent.
With the very same eyes, narrowed against the glisten of sun within that started to peek through the weak wood of the barn, he followed Eden’s gaze to where he once sat and looked up to see the heavy saddle, sitting but inched away from the horse, upon the bench.
“Here.” He called while he bent down to lift the foot stool up with both hands. Eden walked over quickly, as if stepping foot into a circle of knights who once swore to protect him was frighteningly difficult, which it was for not one pair of eyes dared to look away from his back. He feared so immensely that he would be recognized or at least thought to be a thief’s spy.
His fingers wrapped around the foot of the stool, his eyes, he was sure, to keep lowered to the ground and out of sight of the man before him. He gave but a light tug in hopes of reliving the knight of his seat, feeling his fingers tighten around the un-sanded edge and slivers of wood prickle the very first layer of dead skin on his hands. The knight wouldn’t let it go.
“Look to me.” He ordered and Eden acted deft to the command.
“I said look up.” The knight strained his words and as if this little show was a play put on during a grand feast, all watched so intently.
Eden was slow in his movement, lifting his chin as if it was a, by far, the most difficult task that could ever be asked of him. He felt foolish however when the young knight laughed, for Eden had kept his eyes closed when not even the beret could shad his face. He felt the light tap of the other’s fingers on his sweat cooled cheek before he heard the snapping sound that reminded Eden much like the breaking of a thin twig.
“Open your eyes too.”
“What are ya up to?” A knight finally interrupted; however compared to the soft voice of the knight who noticed him he was loud and sharp with his spit words.
Eden opened his eyes and looked to the grown man. To the stubble on his chin and the strong jaw Eden had yet to develop himself. He had a look to him, with eyes as dark as his dirt colored hair that curled around his crown like hundreds of pigs tails. He seemed the very kind of knight that Gran would train however there was no comfort in this for if he was such a knight, recognizing Akistu would come easy to him for the prince most always found himself with his mother’s knights during his time in the castle.
“You must be him.”
The very words froze the quick flow of blood in Eden ’s veins for as the knight spoke such words a smile spread on his lips.
“Who is he?” The lord urged in his greedy want to know what he would never.
“You cannot tell me you think someone in this castle gave birth to a stable boy.” Another laughed and the other’s laughed with him.
Eden wanted to run, even as he was turned around to face the group of men. The young thief was not even sure if he was breathing for his head began to feel light as air and his body heavy like lead.
“Does he not look familiar to you all?”
The excitement in this man’s voice simmered the laughter and drew the men closer. They leaned over from where they sat and Eden thought all would surly fall to a pile on the floor for their back ends merely balanced on the very end of their seats.
He was ready to run, ready to squirm away from the other’s loose grasp and dive back into the sewers. If the thieves blamed him for the fail in their mission he could surly just blame them for almost being caught again!
“I don’t recognize that dirty face.” The lord huffed as he leaned back into the weak wood of the wall and took a long drink of his ale. The others however continued to look with squinted eyes and hunched backs.
Eden found himself thanking any god out there that the sweat on his face attracted the dust and dirt within the barn, for his skin must have been painted a shade darker from the filth.
“It’s in his eyes!” The knight stressed.
“This is Grahn’s son!”
The silence, for Eden, was time to hold back the dance of relief he so wanted to give, however for the other men the silence seemed to be to puzzle this odd comment before all breaking into uncontrolled laughter.
“Grahn’s son!?” One laughed the question.
“That man would not have a son!”
“Yes he would!” The knight that held him quickly protested.
Eden was turned to face him again, his chin held in his hands, rough from long hours with sword practice.
“Gran is a handsome man! Sure enough he could sleep with any whore and have a b*****d or two!”
“Let the boy go.” The lord choked on his own cackles as he gurgled down a mouth full of ale.
“If he does not have the horse ready by the time the kings come by he will be headless.”
“But I know he has to be!” The knight urged on, however the grip on Eden ’s shoulder fell loose and the light fabric rested on his shoulders again however he hardly noticed it was not there.
“Boy tell me your name!”
For a time he was not sure what to answer, for he could use what he called himself now if it hadn’t fled his mind through the moment the question jarred his heart.
“You name?” He asked urgently.”
“ Eden .” It was merely spat out as quickly as he could for he knew any slower and the knights would catch the familiar accent on his tongue.
“is Grahn your father?”
He shook his head, and just to slip away he dare to speak again.
“My father’s a fisher on the edge of the village.”
“See?” The lord grunted in finality.
“The boy has a father now let him go.”
Without further need to keep Eden within his sight the knight now simply handed him the stool and gave the young thief a quick push forward to where the horse wait.
“I think you drank a bit to much ale.” was the last he heard of the conversation, spoken by the loud one to the suspicion knight to call Grahn his father.
Garbed in light robes of deep purples and gold, for though the days grew colder they were not quite cool enough to wear the thick garb for winter, King Erol of Serona walked into the collapsing barn, standing stronger and prouder than his father could ever hope to be. The fat and stubbly king of Asmalen walked in soon after. He wore far lighter robes of red and white. The thieves often made references to this robe in letters. They claimed the red on the cuffs of his dragging sleeves showed all the blood that was spilled on his hands for it was a dark enough crimson to appear as if stained with the lives of many.
At the very sight of his father Azuki became rigged as stone with fear for the man seemed to recognize him so many days ago when the sky was dark with rain and the castle covered in music for his funeral. Than he was covered in the heavy cloak of a thief and was but handfuls of peasants away. Now he would stand right before his son and Eden feared he would be noticed now.
Quick he was to place the saddle upon the horse, however he was sure to make the leather strap under its belly secure. Eden was having a difficult enough time running from his own royal guard. There was no need to have Serona after him as well because their king broke his neck in a careless spill from his horse due to the looseness of his saddle.
“I hope your stay was pleasant.” His father chanted, as though the king’s stay in his castle was by far the most gratifying thing to happen throughout the long week. By far it must have been.
“I would have hoped for a larger room.” King Erol huffed, however the king was not one for large rooms or the finest in valuables. Grahn had told him once before that this king merely said such things to upset his father.
“And I dare say your chickens were not very plump with meat. It was like eating scraps.”
Eden dared to glance up at his words, just to catch a glimpse of his father’s gritted teeth. Quick he was to look away, just as the back of his light sleeve swept the mist of sweat from his dark brow, the motion was merely to lower the brim of his hat over his eyes however before he jumped down from the stool with the lightness of a mouse and departed towards a stall he left half shoveled. After all no matter if his father knew who he was he would not step into the soggy chips to fetch him.
“Perhaps during your next visit I can assure you a much larger room.” His father boasted. Eden knew, however, that a larger room was not at all possible for the greedy king of Asmalen would never give another man more than he himself had.
“The next time I come I expect to meet your son, that is if what you tell me is true and he has not sadly passed.”
“I assure you.” Eden couldn’t help but notice the quickness in his response.
“Prince Akitsu is alive and has merely been kidnapped in hopes of gold and jewels, which I am happy to pay, for the sake of my child.”
The kings passed the very empty stall Eden now stood in, his back to the knights, to the kings that dragged their light robs behind and took up the dirt Eden had failed to clean for it seemed no matter how many times he swept the stone more soil found its way to his newly cleaned area.
“I will not be so sure of your child’s safety.” warned King Erol.
There was something in his voice, Eden noticed, something that only hinted a feeling of doubt that Asmalen would dare give up even a copper coin to spare the life of his kin. Perhaps Eden merely heard this doubt because he himself felt the very same. His father would not give even the sheets from his bed if it meant the difference between life and death for Akistu.
“I worry for him.” The king rose to his readied horse as the words were pressed deep from within his chest.
“There is nothing to worry about!” The laughter Eden heard in his father’s voice put a bitter taste in his throat and a churning feeling in his empty stomach.
“There is much to worry about for that boy if he is to be saved by your hands.” There was a power in the way that this king spoke. It was only now, as the aging man shown a bit of care to a boy he met once, that Eden took notice to the very reason Serona was so powerful for no one would hesitate to follow such a king into the clutches of death and war. After all how could such a courageous and right man lead them into anything wrong?
Eden slowed in his work when he heard the click of iron hooves on the stone floor, his back, however, remained facing the remainder of the small stable for his face was to remain hidden to his father. There was curiosity dancing on the nap of his misted neck however. Or perhaps a longing to set eyes on a king he would be proud to become if he was ever to rule. His fingers tightened around the body of his shovel, the chippings under foot seeming to suck in the tool as he leaned his small body against it and stiffness in his back told him that the kings drew near to his stable.
His ears had become as keen as a foxes it seemed, for in his worry every sound from the rhythmic tap of the horse’s hooves to the light breath of the midday wind outside was heard. It was no doubt he would pick up on the deep huffs of his father’s breath as he quickened his sluggish pace to stand beside Erol’s horse, however it was not the nearing of his father’s labored breathing that blanketed him in a thickly woven cloth of sticky fear, but the lack of a sound within the barn.
King Erol Serona had stopped his horse before his stable. Out of only the very corner of Eden ’s large eyes did he see the grey steed standing with mighty strength before the open doors, over it’s back the light robe of deep purple from the mighty king that sat upon him. He could feel eyes on his back, a burning gaze that seemed to come from the fires of hell. One his savants often called his father’s gaze.
The title was no familiar enough for Eden to react quickly to by now, however when it was the king of Serona that called him he found himself torn between turning to bow or turning to run. He did nether one for at once the king seemed to continue his sturdy words before Eden had even the slightest chance to react to them.
“You did a splendid job readying my horse. I trust you fed him well.”
The compliment ended with a sound that would draw the attention of any man not of noble blood. A chime of gold coins as a silk bag of white and stitched together with golden thread was tossed to his heels. On the balls of his toes Eden raised only to lightly turn as he bent his knees to squat curiously before the bag. His eyes remained downcast, hidden by shade and by the brim of his hat as he fingered the soft tie around the mouth of the bag.
“Just a small pay for your troubles and be sure not to spend it all at once.” The king spoke as though the handful of gold Eden poured into his hands was nothing but pennies, and to Akitsu it would be just that, however not to Eden . To him it was a treasure beyond belief however he could not show his thanks through words. Not with his father standing so close. He could not even so much as raise his eyes to such a kind king.
“Get back to work boy and stop ogling the gold!” His father snapped.
Even though Eden had never before worked to his father, the order had been sharp enough for him to drop both bag and gold to the stable chippings before he turned on the balls of his feet and rose, shovel in hand, to begin again his cleaning.
“Let it be known that if your son does not survive this ordeal it will be my youngest sitting on your thrown.” King Erol snapped his final speech with enough energy to make the man sound much like an ancient but powerful god.
He heard a kick to the horse’s side and the loud whine of the steed before strong hooves galumphed the ground and the steep galloped from the stable, leaving behind a sieving old man with his slacking guards and newly wealthy stable boy. Eden listened for the rest of the knights to gallop off with their king. Most likely they had waited out in the cool sun for in only but a second after their king departed he heard the same cries of horses and the barn seemed to quake as they followed after to the mountain pass and back to their large kingdom.
“What an overbearing man he is.” The king sneered.
Eden dare not look to the king. He remained looking down to his shovel as he hauled up heavy loads of bedding and watched it travel under the shade of his hat as he dumped it to the barel behind him. This motion repeated, his arms growing tiered but he dare not take a break for he feared any slight pause would only grant a good look from his father and with observation to the structure of his face to the color of his eyes he would be a lost prince no more.
The sun shone through the empty holes on the roof, putting cuts of light in the shade and highlighting the thick dust where the knights still sat quietly. After all they did not depart half as quickly as Eden expected while the powerful men spoke. They had merely stood to attention with bowed heads.
“What are you men doing here?”
His voice was filled with more hate than pervious when the powerful king stood before them all in lavish robes of deep purple. A symbol he was for every man to become.
“Get back to your post now before the only shade you will rest in will be underground.”
He did not look, but he heard the sound of their clanking armor as they hurried to gather their drinking pouches and heard the thud of their steel boots on the hey dusted floor of the stables as they left. They seemed to be in such a hurry that the air, as they scampered by the stall Eden worked in, followed after in the pulling force of a river before once again settling to the unyielding tension between he and his father.
“Useless men.” His father sneered, however only when the men were good and gone from sight.
His movements felt slow to him. His arms were starting to burn, as a hand sizzling on a fire scorched stone, from the laborious work he forced to continue. Even the stable boy, despite his father being present, much have taken a short break or two for his hand he felt sting and his skin formed blisters and all the while the constant intensity of his gaze put a weight on his shoulders like no other. Just those dark eyes on the nape of his neck felt like fully armored, full grown knights were slowly lowering themselves down on his back.
“I have a man of great importance coming to the castle today.” His father mentioned, his tone a bit softer however for Eden assumed the long stair he had imagined was merely a time for his farther to simmer his temper.
“You are to take his horse. Treat the mare right for he is very picky about the b***h.”
He felt that look again. The only that drilled into the back of his skull as if he knew the information Eden withheld from him through means of his held tongue.
“He holds important information for me and if I find he will not tell me simply because he believes his horse to not be given royal treatment you will never again set eyes on your family or anything so much as a blade of grass.”
His body had not stopped moving, however it had slowed as the kind spoke. It steadied to a normal enough speed that the king’s voice was heard over the scrap of the shovel on wood the many times Eden dug too deep under the bedding. He slowed so heart would rest, so the blood wouldn’t fill his mind so quickly with so very many uneasy and fearful thoughts such as facing his old life, such as his father’s wrath when he found his son had run away and not merely been kidnapped.
He nodded his head to the king’s orders. He was eager now, however, to find out who exactly this important guest was. For his father was a cruel man indeed but never before had he heard of wasting his time in threatening someone such as a small body that would be crushed with as little effort as if placing your foot on the back of an ant.
His father, he heard, grumble something about the stink of the barn as he walked away towards the doors. Eden looked up when the hairs on his arm felt the distance between him and the man enough to sink again to his skin. From over the chewed wood, soft from years of being a horses flaws, he saw his father’s cringed nose, the strange mix of wrinkles on a face with far too much skin, as he sneered at the dropping on the floors. Only when the king departed the cool shade of the stables to the court yard did Eden turn to begin gathering the gold coins and the silk pouch. After all he could add such riches to the small amount of coins he brought when he fled his home. Serona gold went for high within Asmalen markets.
Eden no longer cared if the two thieves ever came back. His mission now seemed of much more importance for the only time Akistu could remember such an important seeming gust entering their castle, the only news he held was of the guild. Eden now had a need to see who this person was.
· Wed Apr 09, 2008 @ 08:10pm · 0 Comments