Fireheart: Part Two
Episode Two- A New Beginning
It’s been eight months since I collapsed in the forest and I was found, through the help of Kedmiel, by the old widow Elina. She was the kindest old Ixi I’d ever met, and that is saying something. Kedmiel and I helped around the house and garden with chores that didn’t involve heavy lifting, seeing as the scar running down my spinal cord could open and start bleeding if pushed too hard, which meant no sword practice.
I know I’ve said this about every place I’ve been, but life here was wonderful and I loved it. Elina was like the mother I lost many years ago, and I felt safe under the trees of the woods she lives in. At night, Elina told stories of heroism and courage displayed by the brave knights of Meridell two springs ago in the war; especially Jeran, the bravest and most heroic of them all, according to Elina.
Life was almost as simple as it was back in Altador, well before things went wrong, and sometimes it made me homesick, but Kedmiel was far away from home, too, and he wasn’t complaining, so that made me feel better.
The night before my birthday, I was helping Elina pick cabbages from her garden to sell at the summer market the next day. We were talking about Elina’s neighbors, more like gossiping about them, seeing as their doings were the only news around.
“Did you hear?” Elina said, straightening from picking cabbages and dusting off her hooves. “Old Felix, you know him, he lives down the road. Well, his granddaughter is going to have a baby!”
“That’s wonderful news. I hope that good-for-nothing James, that Annie is married to, shapes up and becomes a good father for that baby,” I replied. It was a well known fact that Felix’s granddaughter, Annie, had a husband who’d rather gamble all their money away than look after his wife.
“That’s exactly what was I thinking!” Elina exclaimed, looking at me like I could read her mind. (Which I couldn’t, even if I really wanted to.) Just then Kedmiel sauntered out of the house, looking like he had just taken a nice nap because he probably had.
“That’s great and all but, Elina, don’t you have something to tell her?” the Seti prompted Elina in an obvious way. Count on Kedmiel to come out here, be rude, and wreck an almost enjoyable cabbage picking session.
“Oh that’s right!” Elina said, looking wide-eyed like she does when she forgets something. “Enna, dear, I need to talk to you.”
“What is it?” I asked, pulling up the last cabbage, a little scared. Elina was usually never serious, and when she was, it was usually while discussing Kedmiel and his lack of exercise or some bit of gossip that involved ‘irresponsible young ones these days,’ but never me.
“Kedmiel and I have been talking, and we want you to go to Meridell tomorrow, to the market. Felix will sell the cabbages for us. You should go to the King and get a job. They’re looking for servants, or you could be the Court Magician. You’ll go with Kedmiel, of course,” Elina told me.
I gulped. Court Magician? That was my job back in Sakhmet, not Meridell. But Elina was probably right; it was time to get a job. “But... I don’t know,” I told the two, before taking the cabbage basket inside to wash them and prepare them to be sold.
They followed me into the house. “Come on, Enna, this is a new beginning for us,” Kedmiel reasoned.
“Yes, dear, I think it will be good for you,” Elina said, nodding.
I turned and looked hard at them. I hated it when people thought about ‘my own good,’ but I could see I wasn’t going to go anywhere with this if I said no, so I just sighed. “Alright, I’ll go.”
The next morning Elina woke me earlier than usual. “Get up, dear,” she told me, shooing me into the icy cold water of the bath tub. I scrubbed my fur until it felt raw, cleaned under my nails, and lathered my fire-red hair in the flowery shampoo Elina gave me. All in all, it was not an enjoyable process, and I would prefer not to do it again.
When I stepped out and into a warm towel, Elina came in carrying the loveliest dress I ever saw. It was leaf green dress that had a corset style in the front, and a light green under dress. The straps were thick leather that had vines and flowers tooled into it. “Enna, this is for your birthday!” Elina declared.
“Oh thank you, Elina!” I told her happily; she helped me into the dress and fixed my hair. She brushed the wetness out of it and crowned my head with a circlet of leaves that I enchanted to be everlasting.
“There you go, sweetie. You look beautiful,” Elina told me as she ushered me into the main room of the house, where Kedmiel lounged next to my pack. He looked up at me, and his mouth hung open.
“Kedmiel, a fly will go in if you leave your mouth like that,” Elina said, frowning at the Seti, who promptly closed his mouth, while I smothered a snicker. “Here’s your pack. Felix, Penny, and Annie will be here soon,” Elina told us as she handed me a new pack of clothes and the other meager positions I had. I missed my staff--it was reassuring in my hands--and my fortune telling cards, but they were lost to the Drackonacks.
Elina herded us out the door as we heard the clip-clop of Penny, and her cart in which Felix and Annie sat, coming down the road. Penny, like many other Unis, ran a carting service. They pulled up outside our garden gate and greeted us. “Nice day for a summer market,” Annie commented as I clamored into the cart and Kedmiel leaped in with ease.
“Yes, it is,” Elina agreed, handing me the basket of cabbages. “Be careful, Enna. No sword fighting until the Harvest Festival and come back for Christmas, okay?”
“Alright, Elina, we will.” I nodded and hugged her before Penny announced we were going now, and we were off. I waved to my adopted mother until we rounded the bend and the trees swallowed up my home. Felix didn’t talk at all the whole three hour journey to the castle; he left that to Annie, who talked about the fabric she was going to get to make some clothes for her baby.
I tried to stay optimistic and keep up with Annie’s chatter, and helped her decide that green, light orange and light purple were good neutral colors for both a girl and boy to wear. Penny, who was very excited about Annie’s baby, cheerfully joined in the discussion, and said that a nice sky blue was good, too.
Finally we reached the castle; Kedmiel and I were dropped off at the castle town gates, while the cart continued onto the market grounds outside the castle walls.
I walked as confidently as I could through the gates that lead to the main plaza of the Castle. The Castle Town surrounding Meridell Castle was called ‘the Castle,’ while the actual castle was ‘the Palace’: very confusing.
Kedmiel sauntered next to me, staying in my shadow so his ‘delicate desert complection didn’t get damaged.’ The plaza bustled with activity of the city folk, who seemed always to be in a rush.
In the center of the plaza was a roped off ring with two warriors standing inside. One was a young yellow Lupe, about my age; he was twirling his sword and talking of his skill.
“You know, ladies,” he said to the group of girls standing at the edge of the ring, “yesterday I took on four knights, single handed, and defeated them all.” The other warrior, a blue Wocky knight, took the hilt of his sword and thumped the Lupe on the head.
“Pay attention, squire,” the Wocky said, looking annoyed.
“What was that for, Sir Remus?” the squire whined, rubbing his head while the ladies he was talking to giggled. One maiden, a green Gelert dressed in servant’s clothes, stood on the other side of the circle looking dreamy eyed. I rolled my eyes at the whole scene.
I snorted, but continued past the crowd around the circle and went over to a clump of guards posted in front of the gates to the castle.
“Excuse me, sirs, could you tell me where I could get a job as a...” I started politely before being interrupted by a guard.
“All hopeful servants must report to the west clearing next to the blacksmith,” the man paused peering down at me. “Here in Meridell we get things done instead of waiting around like you’re used to in the country, girl.” Many of the other guards grunted in agreement.
“What of the job of Court Magician?” I asked, fixing a polite smile that hurt my cheeks on my face. I really wanted to blast these guards with a bit of Wizard’s Fire, and see who they thought got things done then.
In the city, people looked down their snotty noses at the country-folk because they thought they lead a ‘simple life.’ Elina would sometimes talk about how in times of war, the Castle was more than happy to have the country-folk around, but after that they were looked over; now I saw that her words were true.
“Court Magician? You don’t want to be caught with magical powers around these parts after the last one. Put a magical disease on the king, he did,” a guard said seriously.
Another guard laughed, “Can you tell the future? Well, I can, too, and you’re going to the west clearing. Now off you go, country girl.” At that all the guards began to laugh. I felt my insides begin to burn with anger, but I had to control it. I turned sharply away, making the guards laugh harder, and headed off to the west clearing. There was a low growl from behind me. Kedmiel, who was unnoticed until then had made the dark noise, making the guards go dead silent.
I smirked at the thought of the guards scurrying off to their captain after their watch babbling about a demon following a country girl around. I looked down to see Kedmiel trotting next to me. “I thought Elina was exaggerating when she said that the city people looked down on the country-folk, but it seems she was right. It was never like this in Sakhmet,” the Seti said.
“Nor Altador or Shenkuu. It’s almost sickening. The town folk don’t even allow the country market in the town, probably because there are ‘dirty’ country folk. They hold their own market,” I added to Kedmiel’s comment, spitting out the word ‘dirty.’ Just then a blue Zafara rushed past carrying a beautifully made silk and satin dress.
A green Eyrie passed, shoving her, and making her drop the dress. “Pick it up, country girl!” he spat at her. She bent her head and scooped up the dress before scurrying off.
“Hey you!” I shouted at him. The Zafara turned and looked back, but I was talking to the Eyrie. “What did you do that for? She was minding her own business, jerk!” I was really mad at this point. I wanted no more than to pump him full of Wizard’s Fire, but then I’d get arrested. Oh well, right about then, I thought it would be worth it.
He glared back at me. “Country-folk have no ‘business’ being here,” he retorted before turning on his heel and stalking off. I glared after him. Kedmiel seemed to have the same idea, and glared along with me.
We continued walking. Kedmiel seemed to be shaken from what had happened, too, but he was determined not to show it. “What are you going to do, Enna? No Court Magician?” the Seti asked.
“I need a job, so I’m going to be a lady’s maid,” I replied, thinking of the job from all the stories I had read back in the library at Altador.
“You, a lady’s maid?” Kedmiel said, beginning to have fit of laughter before he stopped abruptly. “If we go into the castle, no one must know I’m there. Desert folk like me would seem pretty weird around this place,” he said seriously, and I have to say I agreed with him.
We came to a halt. We had reached the west clearing. The clearing was overflowing with people. There were maids, grooms, butlers, smiths, governess, nannies, and even a few weapons masters.
I came to the desk where a rather critical looking Scorchio sat, glaring at me with beady little eyes behind a pair of circular spectacles. “Name, job applied for, and where are you from?” he barked at me, holding his quill in a ready position.
“Enna, lady’s maid, Altador,” I answered nervously. The Scorchio looked at me oddly, but directed me to a line of other maids. There was a red Kougra lady coming down looking down at all the woman. One by one, she rejected them, and the old Cybunny with her, probably her mother, whose wrinkled face was getting more wrinkled by the second, trailed behind her.
As she drew nearer, and the lady rejected each one, my palms grew sweaty, but I forced my brow to not follow their example. The lady was two maids away, and Kedmiel brushed against my leg in encouragement. I smiled down at him, but quickly jerked my head up as the lady moved onto the girl next to me.
“No,” she said quickly without even taking a good look at her. She moved onto me and she looked at me wide-eyed, I stared forward as confidently as possible. “Name,” she said, her high bell-like voice was soft and commanding, and I knew I would learn to hate that voice.
“Enna,” I replied, looking at the lady, trying not to seem too strong-willed; that wasn’t a good trait for a maid to have. The lady pursed her lips, and looked at me from head to toe.
“Mother,” she said, turning to the old red Cybunny. “This Anna girl shall be my maid.” ‘Enna!’ I thought, but I just stood and smiled. The old Cybunny smiled in relief and nodded. The lady strode off, with her mother following behind, motioning for me to the follow, too.
The Kougra lady led the way to the castle gates where the guards scrambled to get the gates open. They looked at me in horror. I smiled in my best wicked grin, and got the desired effect when they whimpered and trembled.
The lady and her mother lead the way into an enormous entry hall with white columns on each side. I gazed around, wide eyed; what a beautiful place! There were two grand staircases framing a great door, which probably lead to the throne room. The stairs’ base stood by an entrance to hallways on either side. The lady went up the right staircase and disappeared into a hallway at the first landing which connected the two staircases above the throne room door. The old mother and I trailed behind.
The hallway had doors on both sides leading to different lords’ and ladies’ chambers. We went into the second door on the left, and came into a plush purple sitting room that had carpets, cushions, and over-stuffed chairs everywhere. The lady was already seated in a particularly purple and plush chair.
“Now, Anna,” ‘Enna!’ “You will address me as Milady or Lady Aroma. This is my mother; she’s Lady Prudencia to you. Your jobs are to wash my clothes, dress me in the morning and for feasts, bring me my meals, tend my chambers--I don’t trust the maids--and anything else I ask.”
“Yes, Milady,” I replied, seeing it the best answer at the time.
“Good.” Aroma nodded, then a white creature jumped into her lap, “This is my Angelpuss, Angel; you will take care of her also. She is imported, so she’s very fragile. She’s a princess. So treat her like one.” The lady glared at me at her last command.
“Yes, Milady,” I said again, beginning to feel like one of those exotic petpets who repeat the same thing.
“Now. Go to the kitchen and fetch some food for me and Angel.” I nodded at her order. “Oh and Anna, get some new clothes; those are hideous,” she ordered me as I backed out of the room; I looked down, feeling anger sting my insides. Before I shut the door, I heard her begin to say something to her mother.
Just as I came out to the landing from the hallway, Kedmiel appeared. “I found the kitchen. I’ll take you there,” he told me, as he lead the way down the stairs, he was being extremely helpful for some reason.
“Okay, thanks, Kedmiel,” I said, following him. I’ve been doing that a lot today, following people. “What about my pack?” I asked, shouldering the bag, already feeling awkward with it.
“I’ll take it to our room after we get the food,” Kedmiel offered. I accepted as we came to the Great Hall and made our way to the kitchen. It was a fury of activity. The Kyrii head chef, Jacques, turned to his crew and announced my order after I asked him, before turning back to me and looking at me with narrowed eyes and a grin.
“Are you new?” he asked.
I nodded in response.
“Hey everyone, we got a newbie!” he announced to the kitchen. The servants all hooted and applauded. “Are you Aroma’s maid?” he asked after the noise died down.
I nodded again.
“Well good luck then, you’re going to need it.”
To be continued...