Well folks. This is the beginning of my NaNo novel. It is the recommendation that one not worry about editing grammar and all that (no going back and editing until the end) so, though spelling and all that kind of correction is appreciated, it will not be heeded for quite awhile. I hope you will all enjoy Converging Shadows.


Prelude

Do you ever watch your shadow when you’re walking on a dark night? When the streetlights are on, illuminating little circles at intervals of whatever the distance they put between them. And sometimes, those spheres of light intersect. When that happens, you just kind of see multiple shadows. Some are short, some are long, and they’re all faded and a little weak. And depending on how you’re walking, one shadow comes kind of from behind you and overtakes the rest until there’s just that one. But then, by the time you’re at that point, another streetlight is coming up and it happens all over again.
Maybe you’ve never noticed it before. It’s just some stupid light right? But then again, small things tend to be what matters sometimes. Of course, I do a lot of thinking. Otherwise, if I don’t think of the little things, the big things come up again. Things I don’t like to think about. Like what happened to my parents, like why I ran away, like how I have to figure out what the hell I’m going to do this winter. I saw frost on a leaf the other day and it scared the crap out of me. But there aren’t many leaves around here unless you go to the park. Then they’re scattered all over the place, making this gravely scratchy noise against the paved paths when the wind blows. Enough about that though, it’s enough to say I do a lot of walking and I do a lot of watching. And of course thinking.
I suppose that I should give you the basics of myself though, not the heavy stuff, but normal things. My name is Calvary Asher and I’m eighteen. Technically set to be out on my own and all that. Ready for it is another story however. Before I left home, I cut my hair short and I’m glad for it. As lovely as long hair can be and how much you can do with it, it really is much easier to care for short hair. So I now have thick, deep red hair that hangs about an inch above my shoulders. My facial features betray my Italian heritage, though my red hair confirms some mixing in the lines and apparently I have some Welsh in me as well. My eyes are a dark green that lightens or darkens on occasion. I’m about 5’8”, willowy—or so I’m told—and decently muscled from a few years on track. And I’ve got curves, which I hate because it’s a pain in the butt to find and good bra and also there have been plenty of times where I’ve found a shirt that would fit me waist wise, but bust? Forget it. In all plain truth, I wouldn’t mind being a little smaller than my current upper side of the B range.
I came from a medium sized town not far from Boston. There’s no point in naming it though, you would never have heard of it, I promise you. Anyway, that place isn’t important, not anymore. I don’t live there and I don’t care about it. Suffice to say, I ‘live’ in Boston now. It’s not a bad place, not when you’ve known it all your life anyway. Navigating the streets by car can be really confusing, but by foot places like Storrow Drive is no problem, as long as you’re careful. That’s a main thing, be careful. I’ve taken up the habit of sleeping during the day as much as I can. Sleeping at night is something I’d rather not try to perfect if I don’t have to. The light is safer, thus it makes more sense to let yourself be most vulnerable then. I’ve always been a night owl anyway.
During the day I can generally be found in libraries in the least frequented parts. Sometimes I find my way into Borders, pick up a book, and fall asleep in a chair. In either situation, if someone found me, they usually just thought me to be some college student who’d been up too late cramming or partying. I perpetuated the illusion through a book that I carried with me. When I was in high school, I had taken AP Calculus for some reason that I still could not fathom. Two books had been given to us at the beginning of that course, a workbook and another book that gave the equations and answers to some of the harder problems. The latter I had lost in my room sometime during the year—not like I would have used it anyway, I was usually getting the work done right before class and had no time to look how to do the problems—and found it sometime during the summer. Since I had already paid to replace the book, it now belonged to me. Imagine my glee. But in my haste to leave my home, I had forgotten that I had put the book in my backpack, thinking to see if I could get my money back. Thus one day I found it along with the rest of my few bare necessities. So I always used that book as a pillow. Upon waking, after groggy confusion, I pretended alarm and thanked them for waking me. I’d wait about a half hour and then I’d leave.
My nights depended on what I felt like doing and if it was free or very cheap. A few times I’ve been swept up into college parties, a benefit of my feminine wiles, and take the opportunity to have a free meal. Never drank anything though and also avoided anything that that might be ‘special’ if some of the crowd seemed little sketchy, such as brownies. If the crowd seemed too sketchy I high-tailed it out of there. Most nights, however, I just wandered, thinking. Which kind of brings me back to where I began. I guess that means that it’s time to go to where my actual story begins. It was October 27, wait, no it was actually a bit past midnight and thus October 28th, 2004. The night the Red Sox won the World Series.


The Night the Curse Broke

The night was really cold, enough that all I concentrated on was moving. As long as I kept moving the cold didn’t bother me. I was aware of two things that night. One was that there was a beautiful eclipse going on. Earlier I could only catch glimpses, but now it was in almost full height and I could see it if I craned my head upward. The second thing I was aware of was that the Red Sox were playing the Cardinals in the fourth game of the series. They had already won three so this game was crucial. Although I had never been much of a game watching, I was a die-hard fan, a believer and a hater of the Yankees. It seemed like every building I passed that had a TV had the game playing. I would stop for as long as I could stand, hoping against hope. So many times I had believed in them and I had been let down before. But I kept coming back. Thus, as I walked I watched the eclipse and when I could stand to stop I watched the game.
The moments drew closer to the end of the game and to the best part of the eclipse. It was bottom of the ninth with two outs. When I stood still I was freezing, but I jammed my hands in my pockets, not willing to move on in these final moments. As a New Englander, my teams for a long time had not been the best or the brightest. But then the Patriots stepped it up a notch. I’ll never forget how I felt when Adam Vinatieri kicked that winning field goal. It was a beautiful thing. The next time wasn’t as spectacular, but it still felt good. I was looking forward to the same amazing feeling this time and wouldn’t be surprised if it was surpassed by what would be a historical win. And there it was, the Cardinal batter called out at first. There was a brief shocked silence before chaos broke loose. There was screaming and yelling and jumping inside the bar I was staring into. Soon people were pouring into the streets, slapping each other on the back, some embraced, people had their arms around each other. And so many people had beer in their hands. It hardly seemed possible that the streets had been near empty just a little bit ago, or as near empty as Boston ever was.
As much as I wanted to join in the festivities—or carefully join in, considering how rowdy these things could get—I couldn’t afford to be taken in by the police or anything. They’d ask for information. So after a few minutes of appreciating the delirium—a guy climbing a light pole, people yelling, tipping things over, ect—I tried to find my way out of there. People wonder about how victory and tribulation can lead to such recklessness and chaos. What they don’t realize is that in a way, destruction is beautiful. There’s a wildness in it that dates back to cave men re-enacting successful hunts in story form. It’s something that taps into the wildest side of us, something that we hardly ever feel in day to day life. It’s not that I endorse it; it’s just that I kind of understand.
It was hard trying to make my way out of the worst of the crowd. People were crowding all over and you couldn’t hear anything unless it was yelled, which only added to the cacophony. It was suffocating. At times I almost felt as if I were in a giant mosh pit. It made me relate to one of the little snowflakes in a snow globe when someone comes along and shakes it. Too long being pushed from one side to another really can tend to discombobulate a person. Never the less I tried to at least move towards an alley that would open onto another street, keeping a tight reign on my book bag. I noticed the moon as I was nearly to the less chaotic alleyway, facing the wrong way but confident I was still heading backwards towards the right direction. The moon was still an ominous red, the barest sliver of silver starting to peak through. At the last minute, I was shoved back towards the wall of the alley. I managed a quick protest of “Hey!” before falling back into not wall, but oblivion.


Sorting of Reality

When I woke up, I could feel that I was moving. Bad sign number one unless I was sleepwalking. But it wasn’t movement like walking or being carried and I wasn’t in a car. I could also feel the sun on my back occasionally, which was another bad sign because it meant that I had lost my book bag at some point. Any money I had left was now gone along with it if it was lost. After a moment’s thought, I realized I was leaning forward against something warm, slanted upward, and hairy. There was also an arm across my midriff. Finally, I realized I was on a horse. Opening my eyes just a crack, I saw that we were on a dirt road with trees all around. The first thing that went through my mind was ‘What the heck?’. Then next was the general idea that whatever was going on, it wasn’t a situation I wanted to be in. The hand across my midriff was firm enough to keep from falling off the horse, but that was about it.
I became aware of crashing noises coming from behind me and thus was alerted that I was being chased. As much as I hated the thought of the horse getting hurt because of me, I hated the thought of being captured more. It was that whole fight or flight instinct kicking in along with the feelings of a cornered animal. I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t want to be caught because I didn’t know what that would mean. I was ignorant of everything it seemed, of who was chasing me, of where I was, of what I was going to do if I managed to get away. So I just kept running. Ahead of me was a clearing filled with tall grass. To the left was a rushing brook, too fast to cross and too wide to jump. Since I had been angling to the left this whole time, the rider was fast approaching from the right. As much of a disadvantage as it would be to me, I had no choice but to take a chance at the field.
Upon entering the field, I heard the rider yell out, “Wait!” There was no way in hell I was waiting so I kept going. This was when I noticed something entirely peculiar and foreign. Either I was seeing double or there were two moons in the sky. They were ghostly moons, like any you would see on a clear day, but they were twice the size of the moon I was used to. And the second one was a dark grey. This sight had me gawking, jaw dropped and eyes to the sky. In my shock, I missed a step and was sent skidding through some mud until I landed in a puddle of more silty tan mud. I cursed and tried to regain my footing, only to have my legs sink further into the cold gook. Pulling at some nearby grass, I tried to draw myself out, but ended up pulling up the grass instead. I was stuck and apparently slowly sinking. And the mud was colder than the Massachusetts night I had seemingly just left. I was up to my waist by the time the rider showed up.
I must have been a kind of poor sight. My arms were partially covered in the mess and I was shivering from the cold. I was also trying not to hyperventilate from fear because by that time I had realized that this stuff was an equivalent to quick sand. Neither of us said a word. He was tall, or at least he looked it from the vantage point of someone who was currently three feet tall if she was lucky. His face was kind of angular, but not in an unpleasant way, though the expression he wore almost made it possible. His hair could be described as nothing but raven black, the kind of black that—in the light—had a rainbow kind of sheen and it was long. Or at least that’s what I assumed because it was tied back in a ponytail, other than that I couldn’t tell how long it fell. From the head down, his shoulders were broad and he appeared to be well built. I would say appeared because he was wearing armor, so one couldn’t tell for sure. But by the look of the armor, or rather by how much it looked like it weighed, he must have had some muscle to him. If it were not for the cold grey eyes that stared down at me, I would have said he was handsome.
Still without saying anything, he went back to his horse—which stood on the edge of the clearing—and retrieved some rope which was stowed in a saddle bag. After attaching one end of the rope to the saddle, he headed back towards me. When the line was tossed to me, I grabbed it. Back he went to the horse. He made a sort of whickering noise and the horse began to walk. Holding on proved difficult because the mud had gotten on my hands. It wasn’t my grip I had to worry about though; my hands were actually numb from the stuff. As it was, I couldn’t feel my legs. So once I was out, all I could do was stare up at the rider when he came back over to me. His horse munched serenely on some vegetation.
I couldn’t stand the silence, but my pride was too hurt to speak and I couldn’t think of anything to say anyway. We were both spared the effort, however, by the arrival of what I suppose was the rest of his riding party.
“Guardsmaster Yoranson, we…” where this Yoranson guy was probably about five or eight years my senior, I judged this new guy to be my age or maybe even a little younger. He took one look at me, hissed something under his breath and said, “By the mysts! Right into the frost bog?” He slid off his horse and pulled a blanket from his saddle bag. He then knelt by me, his shaggy short-cut brown hair hanging into his eyes and started wiping the awful stuff off my legs. I would have been embarrassed if I hadn’t been worried about the possibility of my legs being completely frostbitten.
“I’m going to scout ahead. Keep watch on her, junior guardsman,” Yoranson said sternly. When he was out of sight I muttered something about him having a pole stuck somewhere unpleasant.
The guy ‘watching’ me smiled sheepishly, “Don’t look too harshly on him, Lady. He takes his work very seriously, but he’s a good leader.”
“Whatever,” I muttered, still shivering a little, “do you have a name, or was ‘junior guardsman’ it?”
“Pardon, Lady. My name is Orion Rolandson, a member of the guard in training. And that was Falan Yoranson,” he offered.
“Oh,” I answered, “What’s with this ‘lady’ thing? I think it’s fairly obvious that title or whatever and I don’t even belong in the same vicinity. Maybe a more important question is why I’m here. And for that matter where here is.”
“I call you ‘lady’ because I have nothing else to call you by and it does fit you whether you know it or not,” Orion explained.
“My name is Calvary, you can call me that.”
“As you wish, Lady Calvary,” I rolled my eyes, “As for where here is, this is the region of Eriashen. This…world…is called Coren.”
I sighed, none of this helped, though assuming these people weren’t escapees from an institution, it was a very disturbing piece of news, “And why I’m here would be?”
Orion paused, then continued cleaning off my legs, “Perhaps that answer would best be told later…by Guardsmaster Yoranson.”
“Oh come on!” Orion seemed taken aback by my response or at least my tone, “This is ridiculous! This has to be a…a dream or something. That’s how ridiculous this is. I mean, please, mud that’s that cold? I must’ve fallen asleep on a park bench somewhere!”
Orion sighed, offering the blanket for me to wipe my hands on, “It’s not a dream, Lady Calvary. As for the frost bog, well some people sort of say it’s alive. That the cold numbs its victims so they can’t fight effectively. And throughout that, it sucks you down.”
“So you’re not going to tell me why am here?” I asked, changing the subject as I wiped my hands. I was beginning to warm up again but mud stuff was thorough, worse then sledding for hours in the middle of winter.
“Sorry,” Orion said, “but you’ll find out soon.”
I pursed my lips in annoyance, “So if we’re on another world, this world called Coren, how did I get here? Where’s Earth from here? And what are the actual odds that I would be able to understand you? I mean we just happen to speak the same language or something?”
“It’s complicated,” Orion began, “you see, it really isn’t exactly a matter of where.”
“Please don’t tell me it’s a matter of when, the idea of time travel messes with my mind,” I said.
“No, it’s nothing like that. It’s more a matter of…dimensions…sort of,” Orion answered, the sentence kind of drifting off into a murmur.
“It figures. I have to be dreaming.”
“But you’re not, Lady…I know it’s…” he began.
I interrupted, “Then what’s with all the coincidences? Our ‘dimensions’ just happen to have the same tongue? And both have horses? And…and…crap! I can’t think of any more coincidences!”
Orion sighed, “I can explain about the languages.” He reached out and carefully held up a silver chain around my neck. Careful in that he didn’t want to accidentally touch something he shouldn’t. The necklace was one I hadn’t been wearing before. It was fairly simple, longer than something I would have worn. Hanging on the chain hung a small pendant. It was a black stone set in silver and surrounded by thin silver tendrils that whorled and seemed to make symbols, none of which I was familiar with. The craftsmanship was very fine; I don’t think I had ever seen silver wrought so thinly.
“This?” I asked, staring at the gem. Though black, when the light hit it a softly grey cross seemed trapped within.
“Yes,” Orion said simply, “I can’t say how it works. I don’t know myself. But that is how we are able to communicate.”
I raised an eyebrow, a little skeptical, “Oh I have got to hear this.” I slipped the necklace over my head. “Well?” Orion blinked but didn’t say anything. “Come on, say something!” Obviously he couldn’t understand me, or at least was very good at pretending he didn’t. However, it seemed like what I wanted was clear enough without words, so after a moment he spoke.”
“Viataed eyn?” Orion questioned, “Oyaor tvuda.” It was like no language I had ever heard, but it wasn’t unpleasant to hear.
“Woah,” I murmured, slipping the necklace back on, “that was interesting. Still not convinced this isn’t a dream, though.” Orion opened his mouth to say something, but he was cut off.
“The area is clear. Let’s head back to the road,” Falan said, looking down at us from his horse.


On the Road

Upon arriving back on the road, I discovered that Orion and Falan weren’t the only people I would be traveling with on this little trek. There were three other people among our little group. Two of them I could make nothing of because between their armor, helms, and the capes shrouding around them, nothing of their features were revealed. The last was the only—besides me—without a horse. She wore no armor, just a tunic and leggings tied at the waist with a bit of leather which acted as a belt. Her long blond hair was tied back at the nape of her neck. Soft boots that looked well worn and comfortable covered her feet. She carried a bow and a quiver of arrows on her back and her eyes—an odd golden color—darted back and forth. It seemed like every muscle in her body was ready for action should there be need of it. No one said anything upon our arrival back with the main party. What was with these people and not talking?
I didn’t know what to do now. I certainly didn’t want to get up on a horse with any of these people. Since I didn’t know what they wanted or any such thing, I felt that was fairly reasonable. However, walking back to the road had been quite a journey thanks to that stupid mud. I doubted I could keep up very well at least for awhile. Of course, I wasn’t about to reveal this information either. Apparently though, I didn’t have to because moments Falan had swept me up onto his horse with him. Frankly, if I had to ride with anyone, I would have preferred Orion.
“Forward,” Falan ordered simply, and we were on our way. I was sitting as I was before I woke up, only this time I wasn’t leaning on the neck of the horse and also I had really no choice but to lean against Falan. He was keeping a tighter hold on my now as well, unlike before.
“You know,” I said after a little bit of riding, “I’m not going to try to run again. My legs haven’t exactly un-numbed so there’s not much I can do right now. I might be less inclined to try again later, however, if you would give me some answers.”
“I will explain once we arrive at our destination,” he said. He seemed to be all military coolness, no emotion. Very cold. Musingly, I made comparisons in my head between him and the frost bog. Somehow I had the idea that I wouldn’t get any answers from anyone for awhile yet. Although perhaps if I asked the right questions…
“So where are we going?” I questioned.
“To the keep of Eriashen.”
“Oh.” I half wondered how long he could keep up the one liner answers. Everyone else rode in silence and vaguely thought maybe I was supposed to take a hint. “You know, if you guys found me passed out on the side of the road or something, I appreciate that you helped me, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to get along to trying to find my way back. I’ll be…”
“You’ll be staying with us,” Falan finished for me. I frowned and glared; that was just plain rude.
“Why?” I finally questioned in exasperation, “Why can’t any of you people tell me anything?!”
“There will be time later for that,” Falan said, “right now what is important is getting you back to the keep safely. Which would be a lot easier, I might add, if you would keep quiet.” My mouth snapped shut on what was going to be a retort. Hint taken. I kept my mouth shut the rest of the way, though I was very unhappy about it. The country, region, whatever of Eriashen was quite beautiful I noticed. In the distance I could see mountains. It was well forested and I had even caught a few glimpses of a lake whenever we topped a hill. In other words, it apparently had good natural resources. From appearances, one could conclude that a good living could be made here. Of course, appearances could be deceiving. For the moment, however, I encountered nothing to negate the façade. We had yet to reach or even see a village yet, but that could have just been the result of Falan trying to avoid any confrontation.
Within half an hour, we were in sight of what I assumed was the keep. All I could really see were walls for about half its height. Beyond that was what I could only think of as the fairy tale castle. The mountains I had noticed before now proved to be a natural defense barrier of the rear of the structure. I could see a river running along the base of the mountain before lazily turning to run parallel to the keep about fifty yards away from it. I could also make out a smaller part breaking away from the river to encircle the front of the castle. This bit I assumed to be either incredibly good planning on the part of whoever picked the building site, or man made. Whatever the case, the castle had a moat, which—for some reason—amused me to no end.
“Is that the keep,” I asked Orion—who was riding beside us—in a whisper. I didn’t feel like addressing anything to Falan. For all I cared, Falan could take a long walk on a short pier. If they had piers in this world anyway.
“Yes,” Orion answered, “that is the keep of Eriashen.” Apparently, Falan decided at that moment that he wanted to get us there as quickly as possible. He urged his horse into a gallop, which basically scared the crap out of me. I had ridden before in the past, but never anything more than a trot, maybe a canter at best. It was quite a jarring ride for a person with little experience riding and no stirrups to try to ease some of the bouncing. The only thing I had going for me was Falan’s arm keeping me from falling off. Right then I didn’t care who it was as long as I didn’t end up breaking my neck. By the time we had made our way past the gates, through the village that surrounded the keep, and into the main courtyard of the castle, I was shaking. Falan slid gracefully off the horse—if I didn’t miss my guess, it was an Arabian—while Orion helped me to get down without falling. That was about the time I noticed that the woman who had been accompanying us, was still doing so. She wasn’t even sweating or breathing heavy and yet she hadn’t dismounted from any of the other horses. I had no time to think about this, however, because I was quickly ushered into the castle itself.


Becoming Presentable

After being ushered out of the courtyard, I was brought through a number of doors, hallways, stairwells, and rooms before being placed in front of one door in particular. It was like any other door in the keep; sturdy, wooden, rounded at the top, and opened for me. However, beyond this door was the most luxurious room I had ever seen. Everything about it was huge; the bed, the balcony, the dresser—as if I had any clothes to put in it—and there was even a big stone bathtub type of thing. I wasn’t sure if I should expect indoor plumbing or not but with a tub like that, how could one really complain? You could practically swim in it! I just stood in the doorway gawking as if someone I had known for my whole life had just sprouted another head.
“This is where you will be staying,” Falan said, snapping me out of my shocked state, “you have an audience with the princess at dusk. Someone will be in shortly.” Once he has said this room was mine, I had wandered inside to look around, sort of in a daze. However, the words ‘audience’ and ‘princess’ had caught my attention.
“Princess? What?” I asked, “And what do you mean someone will be in short…ly?” The door closed before I could even finish my sentence. For a moment I just glared at the door, but then I decided to go back to exploring the room. The bed was huge, big enough for me to lay out across the width of it without any limbs hanging off of it. It was soft, stuffed with what I guessed was probably feathers, or maybe the feathers were just piled on top of something firmer. It was piled with light quilts and some sort of fur lay across the bottom of the bed in case the night got cold. There were even curtains attached to the top of the bed. There were six pieces of fabric total, two for each opened end of the bed. They split in the middle, but at the moment were tied to each bedpost to create a draping effect. The drapes weren’t made of very thick fabric, more of a gauzy nature. They were probably more of aesthetic value than for any sort of privacy, though I suppose they would blur things a little.
From there I wandered over to the dresser, mainly for curiosity’s sake than an actual thought of making the thing useful. It was kind of like when you go to a hotel, you open everything; see what kind of stuff they’ve put out for you. You may not be staying long enough to use much of it, but you still have to see. When I opened the dresser, however, I had almost as much of a shock as when I had seen the room itself. It was full of dresses in what seemed like every color you could imagine. All of them full length, all of them fancy. I really hoped they weren’t expecting me to wear those. There were slippers to match the dresses as well. And scary enough, there were even petticoats. The only thing in there that wasn’t a dress was a robe. I shuddered slightly and pushed the doors of the dresser closed. That was quite enough for me. Though I might have put on the robe if it hadn’t been for that ‘someone will be in shortly’ remark Falan had made. Orion had done his best to get that freezing mud off of me, but unfortunately it was still soaked into my pant legs. It wasn’t as bad as it had been, but I felt numb. In fact a bath would have been very nice at the moment.
As if hailed by that thought, the door opened and in walked a matronly old woman with a gaggle of girls probably about thirteen or fourteen. The woman had grey hair tied up in a bun at the nape of her neck. She wore a light colored dress covered by an apron. And for some reason I had a picture of Mrs. Pots in my head from Beauty and the Beast. The girls were dressed similarly, their hair caught under bonnets. All giggles and talking stopped once they took a look at me. And then they just started giggling softer. Without even knowing why, a blush rose to my cheeks.
“Hmm,” the woman said thoughtfully, “somehow I thought we had more time. Though by the looks of things it appears that it’s good that we don’t. Come along girls.” I did not want to deal with this right now. I felt like the center of attention and I had never liked that feeling. The girls kept glancing at me and trying their best not to laugh. Whether it was the fact that I was covered in mud stains or was just dressed strangely in their eyes, I didn’t know. I was about to ask them to leave, except for the fact that they were carrying steaming pails and dumping them into the tub. While being excited about the thought of finally being warm again, I rather felt bad that they were doing all this work and I was just standing there. Then again, every time they giggled I felt less and less guilty. The woman came over to me, “Well, let’s get a look at you.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, being as polite as I could despite the situation and my nerves.
“Hold up your arms,” she said, “come come. We don’t have time to waste” Finally, I sighed and did as I was told. She took me in in two glances, one for the front and the other for the back. “Yes, yes,” she said to herself, “those dresses should do nicely. Though they may be a little snug in the bust.”
“Story of my life,” I muttered, then added, “I’m supposed to wear those things? I’m mean, not that they’re not nice but they’re not exactly my style.”
She pursed her lips, “And what would you be wearing to meet with the princess? Those dirty things? More akin to what a young man should be wearing than for what is right for a young woman like yourself.”
I crossed my arms, “Where I came from they were perfectly fine.”
“Aye, well you’re not where you’re from now, are you?” she said sensibly. The girls had about finished filling the tub by this time, which made me think that there had to be some sort of rudimentary plumbing around here because there was no way they could have gotten so much water up those stairs so quickly.
“Well, speaking of which, can you tell me why I’m here?” I just figured I’d ask everyone I ran into until I actually got an answer.
The woman seemed in a rush but gave an answer anyway, “You’re a shadow dweller that is all that I know. That and that you have an audience with M’lady that we must hurry and get you ready for. I don’t know what they think that we are in expecting us to be able to get you ready in such little time.” It was maybe four in the afternoon by my best guess. I couldn’t fathom what they expected to do to me that would take so long when they had until dusk. She sighed, “Ah, well. Can’t be helped. Come now, into the tub.”
“Excuse me?” I asked. She couldn’t expect me too…
“Hurry up, Lady,” she said, shooing me a little with her apron, “we haven’t got all day.”
I blushed, “I can bathe myself just fine, thank you very much!” The girls were giggling.
“Honestly, such a coil!” the woman said, apparently a little exasperated.
“I don’t care what you call it! I don’t mean to be rude, but there is no way I’m taking a bath with an audience.”
After a pause, she finally said, “Aye, aye. Very well. But don’t linger too long else we’ll be in here straight away to help you finish up.”
“Fine. Okay. I’ll be quick.”
The woman nodded, “Come along, girls.” And with that they all left. Left on my own and with that last threat in mind, I quickly disrobed and slid into the tub. It felt immeasurably good after having been doused in that cold mud earlier. I took a guess at the accoutrements that I had been left on the edge of the tub and started to wash my hair and clean the last remaining flecks of mud off my legs. When that was done, I took the opportunity to just soak for a minute, letting my chin rest on the surface of the water. I’d let myself have another minute and then I’d get that robe on and be ready to put on just about whatever the heck they wanted me to. It was about then that I heard the door start to open.
I turned, still submerged to the shoulders and started to say, “Just give me thirty seconds and I’ll be out” just as Falan started to say “If you…”. We both stopped in the beginning words of our sentences. There was shocked silence on both sides. In fact, I would have been more satisfied in finally getting his face to display an actual expression if it hadn’t involved me being in a bath tub. Unfortunately, that was the case, so I screamed, despite the fact that I was still most of the way submerged. Falan stood there, seemingly unable to move, and also unable to form a coherent thought. He finally opted for averting his eyes, his cheeks red.
“GET OUT! GET OUT!” I yelled, sending a wave of water his way. Unfortunately, it missed. That was about the time the matronly woman entered and began to quickly hustle him out where his own legs seemed incapable.
“We’re not done with her, Sir! We’ll call on you when we are!” she exclaimed. I sank beneath the water, almost determined to drown before I would concede to show my face again. I heard some noise and then heard her voice again, “Come now, dear, he’s gone. You can’t stay down there forever.” I let up a bubble in reply. “I’ll leave the robe on the edge and turn away, alright?” After a few seconds I heard her say, “I’m not looking now.” I let out a bubbly sigh and surfaced. I climbed out of the tub and wrapped the robe around me. “Are you finished?”
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Good,” she replied, “are you alright, Lady?”
“Pride’s hurt. That’s all,” I mumbled, “and my name’s Calvary.”
She nodded slightly, “and I am Edith.”
I smiled weakly, “Nice to meet you.”
“And I you,” she smiled, “I do not think I have ever seen anyone get more of a reaction out of him than you just did, if you don’t mind me saying so.” I smiled a little. Then I laughed, because sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. Otherwise life will suck.


Awkward Moment

After that Edith and a few of the girls helped me to get dressed. Or rather, I got into what I thought was the appropriate underwear, and then they came and corrected me. I had been in enough drama productions that I didn’t mind being seen in a bra so much, at least by other women. I had put on one of those petticoat things for modesty’s sake more than anything else. However, the problem mainly was that they wanted me to wear a corset. There was no way in hell that that was going to happen.
“I will not wear one of those things, it’s unhealthy!” I exclaimed resolutely.
“Now…”
I shook my head, “No, I’ve tried to do what you people want more or less, but this is where I draw the line. Do you know what those things do to your organs? That’s one of the many reasons women didn’t live very long in the middle ages or whatever back in my…dimension or whatever. I refuse to do that to my body. My bra will work just fine.” Unfortunately, they were set in this for some reason. It may have been that my bra would accommodate none of the dresses. However, we compromised, or in other words we made it tight enough to support but loose enough so I could actually breathe. Or at least that’s what I kept trying to convince myself after Edith had pulled and tied strings.
“If I pass out, I blame you,” I said, only half joking as I pulled my bra off from under the corset.
“Aye, so you say,” Edith replied, “but it isn’t near as it should be so you should have no problem.”
I let out a laugh, “Did you just politely call me a wimp?” Edith merely smiled in response. In the meantime, the girls had been pulling out the skirts of the dresses for Edith’s ‘yay’ or ‘nay’. As we had been working and talking, she had been nay saying a bunch of them. Now, however, they had apparently picked out one that she approved of, for she gave them a nod.
With that assent, the girls pulled out a long, leaf green dress. The sleeves of it were flared and trimmed with silver, as was the collar and the hem. Around the plunging neckline and the hem of the skirt, silver vines were embroidered. A silver tassel was tied around the waist of the dress. As far as dresses go, it was very nice, something I could never afford in real life. Or rather back home. Of course, if I could afford it, I wouldn’t have gotten it because the neckline was far too plunging for my taste. However, I didn’t fight them putting it on me, there was really no use. I didn’t even fight the two other petticoats going on over the one I was already wearing. Since I still had the jewelry that I had been wearing when I fell through the wall, I just kept that on, ear cuffs and all.
Although I did have a few things to say once I saw myself in front of the mirror, “I feel and look like I’m about to fall out of this thing.”
Edith grinned, “That’s what the corset is for.”
“That is just an evil symbiotic relationship right there,” I grumbled, scowling at my reflection.
“Come now, smile. It will do no good to make such a face when you look so nice,” Edith said. The girls seemed to be quite amused at my discomfort at least. Edith continued, “Alright, sit down. It’s time to do your hair. Oh I do wish you hadn’t butchered it so, whenever it was that you did.”
“Butchered or not, short hair is much easier,” I answered, “My hair was too thick to handle long. And wet it was like someone had tied a ten pound weight to my head.”
“Still,” Edith replied. She then set to work putting the hair around my face into precise coils and braids around my head. The rest she let hang loose. “I suppose that will do.” The finished effect was like something one would wear to prom, or actually, the dress was a little bit over the top for prom. And all of this for one person, one princess who I didn’t even know the name of.
Edith sent one of the girls to tell Falan that I was ready. In the meantime she retrieved a pair of slippers that matched the color and embroidery of the dress. I sat down, mentally cursing the corset and she handed them to me. After a bit of maneuvering around everything I was wearing, I managed to put them on. They were very comfortable, kind of like the soft shoes I used to wear for musical theatre productions. Like them, I could feel the floor texture under my feet, but not enough for it to be uncomfortable or hurt.
“Well, thank you, I suppose,” I said to Edith, “I guess it would have been bad form to meet the princess in what I was wearing. I’m just not used to this sort of thing. It was good to meet you though.”
Edith smiled, “We shall see each other again, Lady Calvary.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “I hope to get back home as soon as possible. Oh, and you can just call my Calvary. I’m no ‘Lady’.” Edith opened her mouth to say something, but at that moment there was a knock at the door. It was probably Falan trying to be more cautious after what happened last time. I went to the door and opened it. Falan was back to his old expressionless self, though I noticed he avoided looking directly at me. Of course, considering his height, doing so would have pretty much meant looking down at my cleavage, so I was grateful. He offered his arm and I was tempted to insist sardonically that he had to be joking, but with a look from Edith, I resentfully took it. I guess he was supposed to be my escort or something.
For awhile we navigated the halls and stairwells in silence, his arm a steady support when I tripped over my skirts. Luckily, I quickly started getting the knack of it. It was kind of like an elaborate role playing game, which I would have appreciated a lot more than the knowledge that this was real. You always kind of hope that something interesting and unusual will happen to you in your life. Unfortunately, you never think about the fact that—just like real life—fantasy has its own nitty-gritty as well.
Generally, I have a problem with silence, especially the awkward kind, so I said, “So we’re not gonna say anything this whole walk?” He didn’t respond. “Are you even going to apologize for earlier?”
He paused a minute, then continued walking, “I…when I saw Head Matron Edith in the hallway, I assumed that you had finished cleaning up. She was put in charge of tending to you…” That wasn’t an apology, but it was better than nothing, and somehow I felt it was more than I would have gotten under normal circumstances.
“Yes well, I tend to think that I can bathe myself just fine. My dimension…or my time…or whatever for the most part is a bit more taboo-ish on nudity in public.”
“They’re merely servants,” he answered. I flinched.
“They’re people,” I shot back, “and I’m not…let’s change the subject.”
“It would be a lot easier if you would try to cooperate,” he said after a moment.
I sighed, “It would be easier to cooperate if someone would tell me something. But no, whenever I ask I’m given the cold shoulder. Bustled off this way and that. Walked in on without so much as an apology. Told I have to meet some princess before I get any answers. I really don’t care about meeting some higher than thou noble, I just want to know what’s going on! I want to go back to my life, however crappy it might be!”
Falan stopped and looked at me coldly, “You’ve managed to appear the lady, however that idea is banished once you open your mouth.” I might have gone too far, but at that point I didn’t really care. I was tired, sore, and short on air. Maybe that was the problem, not enough oxygen getting to my brain. And that insult stabbed more than it should have. I pulled my arm away from his.
“I don’t have to take that!” I exclaimed, “After the initial shock wore off I’ve tried to at least comply for the most part hoping that if I did that I’d get some answers. But I don’t care! I can find my own way home if it comes to that! I don’t care if I never do as long as I don’t have to deal with you anymore!” His upper lip twitched a little that was all. That one fact irked me more than almost anything else. I hated people who were so stoic that it was like they didn’t even have a soul.
“Come along, Lady,” Falan said evenly without any tone of irony on the title. When I made no movement to follow him, he took my arm, placed it on his, and then put his free hand on mine. This time I went with him, not willing to give him any sort of satisfaction in dragging me. I wasn’t going to throw a tantrum, at least no more than I already had. But I wasn’t going to play some sort of noble lady either. I was going to be myself. Myself in a dress, which was already not myself.


The Princess and Her Shadow

The rest of the walk was spent in silence, not awkward this time, but tense. It was kind of sparked with, well anger and frustration in my case. His case, however, was unknown to me. Luckily, we didn’t have too much of a walk left. Soon we were before a large set of double doors. They were sturdy and wooden like all the other doors I had seen so far. These had more aesthetic value than any of the other doors, though. They were ornately carved, the relief gilded in gold. I didn’t really know what the carvings were supposed to be. My best guess was that they were symbols, most likely of the same type that adorned the pendant around my neck. Falan pushed them open.
Before me was a huge room, the kind you always picture whenever someone talks about a throne room. Carpet made a path to a dais and marble pillars lined the path. Tapestries hung on either side of the room, able to be viewed through the pillars as if they constituted some sort of huge picture frame. The tapestries displayed battles, victories, coronations—everything a self-respecting kingdom would want to be remembered for--woven in rich colors and fine threads. Upon the dais were two thrones, one slightly smaller and less grand than the other. The princess sat on the smaller throne, her gown splayed out slightly before her. Somehow, despite being petite, she managed to seem to be more than what she was.
Her blonde hair was tied up in a number of braids and coils, small pearl-like ornaments were visible here and there. Her complexion was very pale though her cheeks were a little rosy. The dress she wore was almost as lily white as her skin, however where it folded and caught upon the floor, one could see a hint of iridescence. It didn’t plunge quite as much as I did and rather than flared sleeves, the cloth clung to her slender wrists and came to a point, a small loop around her middle finger keeping it in place. Her face was oval shaped, her features sculpted softly and her eyes shone the same color as mine. A small shiver ran through my body, as if recognizing something it had lost and never should have found again. However, this ominous feeling was almost disarmed by her small stature and the fact that she looked like she was only about fifteen.
“My lady princess,” Falan said, bowing, “presenting the Shadow Dweller…” He paused at the realization that he didn’t know my name. I repressed a smirk, thinking ‘Never asked my name, did you, you jerk!’.
I curtsied, not out of any respect, but because a dress like what I was wearing deserved to be curtsied in, “Calvary Asher. I would say it’s a pleasure, but, if it pleases you, I will reserve that judgment for when I find out why I have been brought here.” She nodded slightly and at that signal, Falan rose.
“I thought it best,” Falan said, “to forego an explanation until in your presence.”
The princess nodded again, then addressed me, “I thank you for your patience and apologize for any inconvenience of confusion.” She actually sounded like she meant it, which was surprising. Princesses were supposed to be spoiled brats or timid little creatures. Something I had never really approved of in fairy tales, but never really thought of the possibility of any deviance from the model. Sensible queens maybe, but never princesses, unless they weren’t raised as princesses. In all honesty, at first glance, she had made me think of an older version of the Child-like Empress from The Never Ending Story.
“Do you think I could be informed of what’s going on now, Princess…?” I asked hopefully, stumbling on the fact that she had not yet formally introduced herself. Maybe they didn’t do that here much or something. Maybe they had the sort of belief that if someone knew their name, the person would somehow gain some power over them. Of course Orion had given his willingly enough.
She smiled warmly, “Forgive me, I am Oliana, daughter of the late King Marinus of the line Nerium. I am soon to be coronated Queen of Eriashen, which is why you have been brought here.”
“I think I’m still missing something,” I said after a pause, “what does that have to do with me?”
“In the world of Coren,” Oliana began, “there are legends—well more than legends—of a sort a people called Shadow Dwellers in the simple tongue. Think about when light is coming from more than one source, from different directions. It is then that you see more than one shadow, correct?” I nodded and she continued, “Well think if those shadows weren’t mere shadows but other people. And the intensity of the darkness, the shadow diluted least by the light was a person that was most…connected with yourself. You feel each others pain in a way. There is something bringing you incredibly close for some unexplainable reason, closer than sisters or any sort of blood relation.” She stood then, briefly touching her hair as if unconsciously checking its placement. She walked over to me then, took me by the hand and smiled the most genuine, disarming smile I had every seen, “You are that shadow, Calvary.” My hand tingled at her touch.
“Me? But how do you know all this? And why wouldn’t anyone else know, besides the people of Coren?” I questioned. I noticed Falan was tenser, as if I might try to hurt Oliana.
“I can’t say why this knowledge would be given to Coren alone,” she said, “maybe other worlds know and keep it hidden. Or knew and have lost the knowledge. But yes, you, Calvary. Have you ever gotten a bruise or scratch that you couldn’t explain? That you had no recollection of ever getting?”
“Well yeah,” I answered, still a bit shocked, “everybody d-…” I shook my head. This couldn’t be true, could barely be real. How could it be real? It didn’t make any sense. Suddenly, in a flash of movement that barely registered, the princess turned my hand and struck my finger hard with one of peal hair adornments.
“Ow!” I exclaimed, pulling my hand away and knocking the hair piece from her hand in the process. Blood welled in a little dot on the tip of my finger. Nothing more than when a nurse takes your blood during a physical.
“Princess!” Falan exclaimed rushing to her side, looking more concerned for her than me. Not that I expected him to show any towards me. In a moment, though, I saw the cause for his reaction. Oliana winced with a cut off cry and cradled her hand. A few drops of blood dripped onto her glistening dress. After a second to regain her composure, she straightened. Very calmly she held out her hand, opened it palm upwards. There was now a gash across it. It was nothing too serious, but at the same time… I backed away, eyes wide, “I…how…is that…?” I stammered hopelessly at the prospect that every word she had said was true. “But why?”
Falan was caring for her hand as she responded, “There are other shadows, but you are my Shadow Dweller. Any small wound to you is something far more dire to me. That’s why we brought you here. Ordinarily I would have to wait with hope like anyone else in Coren, though it doesn’t happen with everyone—not to this extent. But since I am to be queen, we needed to take more drastic measures. You understand, don’t you?” I was shivering a little, still wide-eyed. “You will help us, won’t you? Help me?” Those eyes like mine delved into my own, pleading.
“I-I…of course, I mean. Geez!”
She beamed at me, “I am grateful! Of course if you should need anything, anything at all it will be provided. Once the danger is over, of course you may go home. Or remain if you wish.” She took my hand in an excited, congenial manner, as if she were being surprised with the news that we were going to be good friends or something, “And of course join us for dinner and join me at my table!” I nodded, speechless. I couldn’t help but notice the midnight colored cloth now tied around her hand, torn from Falan’s own cloak. Now that I thought about it, he had shown more emotion in this whole scene than he even had before under the more embarrassing circumstances. Was it just concern for his future monarch or something more?
“I-is your hand okay?” I questioned, actually concerned and feeling guilty even though it wasn’t my doing. Although she did it to prove what she said was true.
She looked at the cloth wrapped around her hand and smiled slightly, “Yes, it is nothing serious. Falan will take you back to your room so you may prepare and dress for dinner.”
I blinked, “Again?” I looked down at my dress wondering why I would possibly have to change. Princess Oliana just laughed softly.


Invitation to Dine

I was sitting at the princess’s right hand, a place that I knew held some significance that I didn’t totally get. Though I did have the vague idea that that was probably where the phrase ‘right hand man’ came from. Falan stood not far off, not eating, just standing. I suppose he was guarding Oliana, doing his duty as ‘Guardsmaster’. Meanwhile, I was trying my best to play the part of a lady at least passably well. This time I was wearing a dark blue dress, the neckline a little less plunging and the sleeves like the iridescent dress the princess had been wearing earlier. Princess Oliana was now sporting a dress similar in style to mine, but a pale yellow, almost a cream but not quite.
Honestly, I had never had any experience in the formal dinner area. This wasn’t like the Middle Ages in my dimension where using one’s hands was the norm. What we had here was more like the age of many, many utensils. Though I had heard the solution to this problem of what fork or knife to use when, I could never remember whether one was supposed to work one’s way out or in. So I came up with my own solutions. Basically, I took a sip of my drink and watched the princess inconspicuously until I had my answer. It was work your way from the outside to the inside.
It was unusually quiet considering we were sitting among a large group of people. Of course, it could have just been that everyone was eating. However, I could not seem to shake the unnerving feeling that I was being scrutinized. Whatever the case, I wanted to get out of there as soon as I possibly could without being rude. Frankly, being among crowds always made me uncomfortable unless I had something to take my mind off of it. Oriana was blithely unaware, talking animatedly with me and the other people at our table. It was interesting to see, though, that no matter how talkative she was, she managed to maintain an air of calm, knowledgeable authority. I had never seen a girl her age act more maturely, even if she was—assuming my guess at fifteen was more or less correct—only a few years younger than me.
When I had had my fill of the things I felt comfortable eating, I sat with my hands in my lap and listened to the song that a bard was singing. Salad, bread, soup, and the pre-carved foul of some kind was always safe, but when the creature is capable of staring back at you--even if the eyes are shut--that is something I’ll leave well enough alone. The bard accompanied himself on what I decided to call a lute; though for all I knew it was a lyre. I really had no clue when it came to olden-type instruments. It was pleasant enough, yet for some reason I couldn’t understand the words. Maybe the amulet didn’t work on singing. Or maybe the song wasn’t meant to be listened to, but felt. Some things need no words.
“The um…bard,” I questioned suddenly, thankfully not interrupting anyone, “what does he sing?”
Oriana answered in a sort of distracted manner, as if she was caught off guard, “I…I’m afraid I don’t know. It is in the tongue of the symbols, something that no one fully understands anymore. I am unfamiliar with this particular piece. Why do you ask?”
“Oh,” I said simply, “I was just curious. I couldn’t understand it so I was a little confused. That and I’ve always loved music.” She nodded in understanding and I let the music take me away. This was the sort of thing I needed to make me forget that I was in a strange place, surrounded by strange people who were all trying to conjecture about who I was and what I was doing sitting next to the princess. That was what it was, really. A mass amount of curiosity directed at me. But who could blame them? Even dressed up in this costume there was something about me that didn’t fit. And no, I wasn’t being conceited. I knew it because I could sort of feel it from them; it was kind of like when something literally rubs you the wrong way. Something that tensed the muscles in my neck and screamed I didn’t belong. Thankfully, it was starting to dull, or maybe I was just becoming numb to it. Kind of like a sound that’s always there, but after awhile you stop noticing it. I once heard that described as the ‘sub-audible’. It’s always there, you just kind of forget about it after awhile. I really hoped that was what would happen to this. I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn’t hear Oriana when she spoke to me.
“Calvary?”
“Oh! Sorry, what did you say?” I asked.
She smiled, “Why don’t you tell us about yourself? I would love to get to know you, especially since you’ll be staying with us for awhile yet.” The whole royal ‘we’ thing never ceased to amuse and confuse me at the same time. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to the people at the table and speaking to them or just referring to herself.
No matter which she was talking about though, I really didn’t want to talk about my life, “There’s really not that much to tell about. You wouldn’t know any of the places I might mention, the people I might talk about. And what’s left really isn’t that interesting.”
“Perhaps this is a sign that you are modest?” Oriana questioned, chuckling, “Surely there is something you can tell us about yourself.” As much as I wanted out of this subject, perhaps the way to do it was to indulge her a little. A mundane fact, any fact would do.
“Well, I used to do cross country. Umm, that’s like a race, but it’s not individual, it’s a group. And I was from a fairly small town but more recently I’ve been—er---living in the city,” I replied.
“So you ran for sport?”
“Yeah, basically. I kind of dabbled in everything though. Music, acting, and I was pretty good in school I guess.”
“Music?” she asked, “Did you play?”
I blinked, “Well, yeah, the flute.” I laughed, “At least if you could call what I did playing. I wasn’t that good. I preferred singing.”
Oriana beamed, “Oh! Perhaps you would favor us with a song?”
“What? No, I couldn’t…I mean…I don’t have any music and I don’t know music from here and accompaniment wouldn’t know songs from where I’m from…” I was rambling.
“Could you sing without accompaniment?” she questioned.
“Well, I could…I mean no! I couldn’t possibly. I’m sorry, I-I don’t like singing in front of people, especially on the spur of the moment,” I looked at her with what I hoped was a pleading expression.
She nodded, a disappointed but understanding look on her face, “Very well. Perhaps another time then.”
“Yeah,” I said, swallowing, “maybe.” Why in the world did she want me to sing? Maybe she was just trying to be personable or something.
“Well,” she said at last, “what else is there to ask? Oh! I know. Tell us about your family. Surely there are a few things you could say.” I wonder if I paled noticeably or if it just felt that way.
“There’s…there’s not much to say,” I managed to stammer, “I’m an only child. I…umm…if you’ll excuse me, I…need some fresh air. I’m sorry.” With that I excused myself and made my way to a long, hanging drapery that cut off the night and a balcony from the warmth of inside. It was chilly outside, but nothing I couldn’t handle considering I was from Massachusetts and it had already been getting colder when I left there. My cold tolerance was just a few notches below optimum. I leaned my elbows on the railing of the balcony and looked down into the garden. Why were there always gardens below balconies?
The one question that I especially didn’t want to answer, to talk about, and she had nailed it. I wasn’t mad at her, she couldn’t possibly know but…damn it I would have rather sung than think about that! Much to my gratitude and immense surprise, I was snapped out of my train of thought by someone joining me on the balcony.
“Is Milady well?” he asked. It was the bard who had been singing that song earlier. I sighed and started to run my fingers through my hair, only to realize that was impossible because it was tied in coils and curls to my head.
I sighed, “I just needed some air. I…don’t like crowds very much.” He nodded, tuning his instrument and leaning against the railing.
“It can be very trying, being with a crowd that you do not normally…rub elbows with,” he replied nonchalantly.
“Is it that obvious?” I asked. I looked at him, studying this stranger who was apparently showing me concern that no one else had thought to. His face was somewhat long and angular. He wore a long coat made of patches that were many hued and rich in color. The attire he wore under his coat was simple trousers and a shirt that ruffled from the neck down to the waist. The cut of his dirty blonde hair was short kind of short, kind of the length of a bowl cut but with much less regularity. His blue eyes sparkled behind dark bangs in the light of the white moon while the light of the grey moon cast kind of a shadowy grey light to his left side.
I was curious as to why he had bothered to come out here when he could be inside making a living. Surely he had better things to do than to come out here to inquire about my health. Though I kind of wondered if anyone had noticed he had left. I think I would have, but I couldn’t know for sure, since I was out here meeting him.
He smiled a little, “You were doing quite well. But I am unusually aware of…others like yourself.”
“You mean Shadow Dwellers or whatever?” I questioned.
“Yes,” he responded, “though the others only feel it as something sort of exotic about you. You looked particularly uncomfortable though. I take it you actually feel it then?”
“Something as if I was a cat and my fur was being rubbed the wrong way? Yeah, I felt that,” I responded. He chuckled at my analogy. I looked out across the garden at the mountains. I craned my head up, trying to see their peaks and could barely make out the tops of them. If I wasn’t mistaken, there was snow at the tips. Was it that close to winter here or were these mountains tall enough to be snow covered at the tops all year? Did this place even have seasons like other places? For all I knew Coren’s snow could be warm and taste like coconut or something.
“So you are a shadow then?” he queried.
I shrugged, “I guess, that’s what they tell me anyway. But I thought you knew that by the feel. That’s what you said, right?”
He nodded, “It’s easier to be sure when you have so many other energies to contrast it. You notice that it’s not as bad out here, with just you and with just me?”
“Yeah,” I said, “it’s not as bad.”
“You say that’s what they tell you,” he said, “Do you not believe them?”
I sighed, “Well, they certainly showed me proof enough. A pinprick to my finger is a gash to her palm and whatnot. Yeah, I got the message well enough. Don’t really like thinking about it too much, else I start getting afraid to move. I don’t want anyone hurt because of me.” I shivered a little, thinking of the memory of Oliana’s hand. Suddenly his patched jacket was being held out to me.
“Are you cold, Milady?”
“Sort of,” I responded, I was, but not in the physical way, “but you don’t have to…”
He smiled in a congenial way, “I insist Milady.” After a pause, I returned the smile and took the pro-offered coat, “Alright, but only if you stop with the ‘milady’ stuff. My name’s Calvary, and for the most part I’m nothing special.”
“Agreed, though I think you misjudge your worth,” he answered as I put the coat on, “I am called Janus.”
“It’s good to meet you. Thank you…for taking the time to talk and…and for the use of the coat.”
“My pleasure,” Janus responded, “I must be getting back inside.”
“Oh, of course,” I answered, “I understand.” Janus started to walk away, but I asked, “What was that song you sang earlier?”
He turned, “Oh that? It was a song of change.” With that, he walked behind the heavy curtain back into the dining hall.


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