The Journey of Emeline: Chapter Eleven
Aleida awoke from her sleep in the middle of the night. She was covered in sweat and the only thing she could hear was her heartbeat pounding into the darkness. Snow fell outside and covered the ground in a soft layer of white dust. It had been days since they arrived, and still it felt uncomfortable to be in such a well-mannered place, unlike their cabin before. Everything was mostly quiet, except for the outside noises on the streets. From the window in their third-story tower, Aleida could see where the families garden was and though winter had covered the green, she wanted to walk the grounds, feeling real air on her skin. The last days had been quiet as well, especially from Josef, who barely came by her room. Dain however, giggled and played in the nursery that must’ve held Josef and Hadrian when they were boys. Everyone was on edge, but what struck Aleida as strange, was how empty the house really was. There were rooms she had never gone into, and yet, there was far less staff. There was four housemaids but only two stayed in the house which meant they switched every few days or so.
Josef, who was normally in his lodge near the Fekete Port, and Hadrian, who supposedly travels months at a time, were now staying in the home. Why do they still stay in this manor? It made Aleida sad to think of how empty it really felt here. Was it ever full of laughter and love? It was nothing like her home at home, if it still existed. Aleida’s family would sit around the dinner table late at night and tell stories. She remembered her mothers, the deep wrinkles near her eyes when she smiled. Her father’s heavy laugh when he talked about his younger years with their mother. For not having many possessions, their family still had each other. It was funny to Aleida, that for this family to have everything, they really were alone in it.
It was without trying that she awoke every day at the same time. In her mind she was to get out to the docks and send off boats, before hurrying to her assigned house to cook and clean and corral all the children into behaving. Since the incident with Dain and Josef, they had to stay hidden inside, and even though her brother stayed content wandering about the large manor, Aleida found herself anxious and frozen at the slightest of noises.
This morning she pulled over a warm housecoat that Josef’s mother had made especially for her. It was made of wool, but the inside was lined with a softer fabric that didn’t scratch like all her other dresses. The two had formed a bound over prayer one morning, and even though Aleida didn’t know much about Lady Dareema’s gods, she squeezed her eyes tight and hoped for safety for her family. Nai was just like her mother. Both the women were very quiet, but were able to bark out a command if needed. Maybe it was why Aleida could spend hours sitting in the same room as her, without feeling the need to speak. In truth, there wasn’t much else for Aleida to do otherwise, and so she helped when she could, mending winter clothes that Dareema was repairing for some of the local children. Alieda found out that even though it was High Ground, one of the most affluent areas on this side of the sea, there were families that didn’t have the normal pay of most in Gazdag. These were merchants and housemaids or other workers that inhabited Gazdag. They made families here and started a family, with no way of rising through the ranks, because of their status. Dareema had a soft heart for the merchant children, and there were sacks full of worn clothes that she carefully went through to repair. The two went through a bag and a half a day if they stayed focused, and there was only one more left. Winter had held off for just the right time, and now the children would have warm clothes as some went to the docks, and others made their way up North to take care of the High Stables.
No one was awake yet, and it was rude she felt, to get up before the others. Lighting a candle, Aleida sat at her dressing table, sitting in silence. Even the housemaids weren’t rushing around to start the daily chores. Aleida tried to help them, but she would get ushered away and sent back to her room. They meant well, and there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t kind to her thus far. All except Hadrian. He looked at her in such a strange way, and she had to assume it was because she resembled her sister. It was like she was a ghost again, or just a shadow of Emeline. Oh, how she longed for her sister, though. There would be no way to find her, and that wasn’t even what drove her to near insanity. It was the fact that Emeline had been steps away, and choose to leave the only family that she had left. Hadrian had told her everything, after Aleida begged him in the stables, threatening to run after her if he didn’t explain how he had found her. Aleida turned and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. It was still dark outside, but the light from the candle warmed her skin, illuminating some parts, and casting shadows on others.
It must’ve been months since Aleida had seen herself. The last time was when Oga took Dain and her to a tailor that fitted them for proper cloaks before their trip to Fekete. Aleida had filled out her cloak perfectly, as the tailor had measured her, and took in what was too wide, and let out what was too tight. Her cloak was laying, tattered in the wardrobe near the corner of the room. From all the stress and worry in the past few months, she doubted that the cloak fit as nicely as before. Aleida’s gaze moved back to her own face, and noticed that there was dark circles under her eyes. The woman staring back was unhappy. Grabbing her hair from behind her, Aleida brought it around and watched as it laid itself down over her chest, and down near her stomach. She tried to run her fingers through it, but they kept getting caught in her knotty curls. Her hair had been a continuing battle when she was younger. It was thick, and curly, and no amount of ribbons braiding could contain it’s wild flair. Now, that it was longer than it had ever been, and she was in a different climate, it suited her well. One thing that she could be proud of, was how it was like her mothers. Both had pitch black hair, something that Emeline couldn’t put her name on. Aleida had still felt like a child before she left Boldog, but looking fully at herself now, that feeling was long gone. It was about time that Aleida stopped comparing herself to her sister. Standing up, Aleida paced the room. Yeah, I’ve been tearing into myself about, Emeline. You’re the one who left me and Dain to fend for ourselves. Aleida refused to allowed tears to fall for Emeline. The shadow was starting to move away, and Aleida saw how much she had survived, and in turn, Dain had survived too.
Emeline was always stubborn, and her emotions didn’t break through the surface. Hadrian expressed nothing but patience, but there was something that he wasn’t telling her. He had his secrets, and they were in his home, so Aleida allowed him to keep them. For now. Again, Aleida wasn’t surprised when Hadrian also showed signs of being smitten with her sister. There were always gifts for Emeline from other suitors. Flowers and jewelry and sweets. Emeline just never paid attention to them, only focusing on becoming a better archer or rider. Emeline always wanted to provide for their family, always afraid that one day they would run out of food and money. Emeline was like their mother, but followed in the busy footsteps of their father. Thoughts of sweet bread and her mothers hugs was disturbed by the sound of loud footsteps coming down the hallway towards her room. The door swung open and Josef came towards her, pulling her to the floor.
“What is going…” Before she could finish, Josef put her hand over her mouth. Tears started in her eyes, and she feared the worst. Where was Dain? Josef leaned against the wall below the window and held her. She was sweating again and her breathing became shallow as panic began to rise. Josef was strong, but he wasn’t holding her like he didn’t want her to get away, but in a way that meant he was trying to protect her. Aleida didn’t know if she should be even more afraid by that, but before she could think a moment further, Josef let go, and motioned for her to stay quiet. He kept his finger to his lips, and peered out the window.
“Josef, now tell me, what is going on?” Aleida sat up from her position on the floor, and tugged at his arm. He looked down at her, his eyes full of worry. He shook his head and turned to the window again. He muttered an expletive under his breath and slumped down again. Josef was still in his night clothes, and he was warm against her, in the dark, cold bedroom. Her room faced the street from one side, and it was often times that she stayed awake, watching people walk by.
“Aleida, I don’t want you to think that anything bad is about to happen. But,” He paused and Aleida searched his face for answers before he spoke again. “It seems like there are men across the street, wearing all black, and I’ve just noticed them again this morning. They were there yesterday during the market Catch Call and I didn’t really pay close attention.” Josef talked in a hushed voice that made tingles crawl up Aleida’s spine.
Aleida froze in disbelief, but then began getting up to find Dain.
“Aleida, no. It’s okay, Hadrian is with him.” Josef cautioned Aleida that any sudden movement within the house could set off alarms to the men outside.
“I need to be with him. I can’t let anything happen to him too.” She began crawling on the cold floor, inching her way away from the windows that could reveal her. Josef was behind her, worried, but complying. When Aleida made it to the hall she got up and ran back to his room. Hadrian was sitting on the edge of the bed, and Dain was fast asleep, not noticing that anything was happening. Hadrian stood up and motioned for Aleida to stay low. By crouching down, Aleida made her way near Dain’s bed and the two brothers followed suit, sitting in the rays of the early morning sun.
“There’s a chance that these men aren’t the ones looking for Dain and you, we don’t know anything yet.” Hadrian tried to calm the situation down, but he wasn’t believable.
“Well, what we do know is that there are people looking for us, and they know my face, Dain’s face, and both of yours.” Aleida crossed her arms, and decided she was going to stay firm and bullheaded against the two if she needed.
Josef spoke after being quiet for awhile. “I could sneak out the back, and swing along North of Gazdag, and come down past the market. If they recognize me, we’ll know its the men.” The way he stated this, it sounded like the best option, but it was far from it.
Both Aleida and Hadrian said no at the same time, and Dain stirred. The three held their breath and he turned around and fell asleep again. It was out of the question. It was a miracle any of them got out of that situation alive last time, and playing with those odds again wasn’t going to happen. Aleida shivered when she thought about how scared she was alone with just her brother and that fox in the cabin as three large men stormed in.
“If that plan doesn’t work, then the only thing I can think of is catching a boat out of here.” Josef looked around to see their reactions, but there really wasn’t any emotion. They all played how that would look in their head. For each of them, there were reasons to stay.
Aleida thought about it for a few moments. What did she really have here? Gazdag wasn’t her home, and if her sister could leave them so easily, then why should it be hard for Aleida? She felt selfish, because she knew Emeline didn’t leave to spite her, but what could possibly be in those mountains that wasn’t here? Aleida looked down at her fingers before speaking. She noticed how her nails were freshly manicured without a speck of dirt under them. This house felt more like a prison, and today more than any other. Maybe it was the right choice to leave, and go somewhere she was useful too. In spite of the fury she felt against Emeline, it took courage to be out there all alone. At least she was here with Dain, and other people who she felt like cared for her in some way.
Aleida nodded her head, “Yes, it may be our only option. Dain and I’s.”
Josef looked at Aleida, and it sunk in that Aleida meant that she would be leaving High Ground without him. In a soft voice, “So it wouldn’t benefit you if I were to go along?”
Aleida’s mouth opened slightly, and she looked between Josef and Hadrian before getting up. She motioned for Josef to follow her and left Hadrian and Dain in the nursery room, closing the door.
The two spoke in whispered voices, only a few phrases made it through the door and Hadrian tried not to eavesdrop.
Hadrian was shocked when he heard Aleida speak the first time. He thought that she would surely have more smarts than that. It would be impossible to sneak a boat out of the harbor carrying three fugitives. It would be unwise for just Aleida and Dain, but for Josef to go, he knew he couldn’t allow it. Outside the door, Aleida was furious.
“You barely know Dain and I. Now, we’re in your home, eating your food, wearing your families spare clothing, but we’re strangers.”
Josef was defensive, and maybe it was the wrong route, but he was trying to make Aleida understand that even if they didn’t know each other that well, the two had gotten themselves into something bigger than a wooden horse.
“I’ve spend more time with Dain than you have in the past few months.” Aleida was quiet, and he knew he had struck a tender spot with her. He prepared for fire and fury, but was met with something more.
“Josef, I know that. I’m grateful for it too, because I was a mess. I’m only meant to be a sister, not a mother. At least not yet. I haven’t even been in love before.” With that, Aleida turned and paced the soft carpet up and down the hall.
“I’ve been in love before.” Josef was looking at the back of Aleida’s head now, hoping she’d turn around to face him.
Aleida’s heartbeat quickened, she felt, embarrassed that she had even said anything.
“I’ve been in love, and it doesn’t always mean as much as you think.” Josef turned and walked down towards the library, and Aleida could hear him unrolling maps. Hadrian opened the nursery door and peered out the door looking both ways. He stepped outside and softly shut it behind him.
“Was anything solved out here?” They were still talking in hushed voices, as to not disturb the household. Aleida wiped her eyes, and pulled Hadrian into her room, staying low again. From its hiding place, Aleida pulled the small bag of diamonds and placed it in Hadrian’s hand.
“I need to show you something. I didn’t mean to keep it from anyone, I just needed to be sure that this was a safe place.” Pulling the closed end of the bag, Aleida released the diamonds and they full gently into the palm of his hands. She watched his face as he took in what he was seeing.
“Aleida.” His tone was unmistakable. He knew they were in trouble.
“What was I supposed to do?” Aleida, refused to cry in front of him again, but she was frightened.
“We need to talk to Dain. We need to know where he got this, and then we can go from there. There’s a chance we can make an exchange and they might leave us alone.” Hadrian doubted it, and so did Aleida.They weren’t out of this awful mess yet, but Aleida had just confided in Hadrian, and that was a step in the right direction. The sun was out, and casting rays against the floor boards, catching the diamonds dangerously in the light. They put the evidence back into the small bag, and tucked it away where they both knew it was safe. Hadrian over and looked through the window. There were no more ominous looking men across the street, but to him, that felt just as threatening.
So on through the day, everyone in the house went about their business. The maids cooked and cleaned and Aleida and Dareema continued sewing patches on the rest of the children’s clothes. It kept her mind busy, but not enough as to forget what happened earlier in the morning. It had her on edge, and her fingers were unsteady and Aleida managed to prick herself, squealing as she did so. Dareema looked up from the pair of pants laid out on her lap. She saw tears in Aleida’s eyes, and she got up and knelt in front of her.
“Oh, rapaza, what is the matter?” Nai’s eyes were kind, and she knew that there was something wrong and that the finger prick wasn’t the only thing bothering her. Aleida rubbed her forefinger and saw that she had gotten tear stains on the bright blue dress she was stitching together. It was then that she told Dareema everything that had happened, and the tears flowed. She felt frightened, and yet she felt determined to fight whatever came her way. Aleida longed for home, for her uneventful life that was happening before The Great Awakening. It was her non suffering, that made the suffering much worse. To not feel the pain that she knew her parents must be feeling, cut deeper than any needle of knife could. Dareema allowed Aleida to keep speaking, and crying and it wasn’t until she had spoken her peace, that Nai chimed in.
“Aleida, women like you and I have seen so much pain of others, and we forget to see it in ourselves. Os tues pais, your parents, they are martyrs for you. You must not be a martyr for them.” She wiped away her tears with the blue dress that lay folded in her lap, and brushed her black hair from her face. “It has been long overdue that I leave this place. It hasn’t been our home for years. One thing I know, we musn’t let good things die.” With that, Dareema stood, slowly, as her knees cracked, and she winced before straightening herself. Again, she patted Aleida’s face, and walked out of the room. One of the maids quickly found her and helped Dareema as she made her way up the long spiral staircase. It wasn’t clear what she had planned, but there was a map in the library that had all they needed.
It was after dinner, and Dain was sitting in the library, behind a stack of books that made him sneeze when he opened them. Josef and Lady Dareema were sitting around a large wooden table, talking over a map. He didn’t understand any of that, and instead he was focused on making a fort like he used to when he was still with mom and dad. The finishing touches were ready to be made, and all that was left was the roof. He had pulled off a sheet from his bed in the nursery, and draped is in a odd fashion over each of the piles of books he accumulated in the corner. It was where he felt the most safe, away from the scary men who rammed their ways into the cabin. The thought still made him shiver, and he wondered where his toy horse had gone. Cuddled up inside, he opened up a small journal that he found. Dain loved to draw little things and he used to do it at night when he was supposed to be sleeping. This book already had pictures drawn in them, so he spent his time flipping through the pages, marveling in the amazing artistry.
All of a sudden, the sheet was pulled away slightly from the side, and he jumped, but saw that it was just Josef.
“Would you care if I joined you?” Josef smiled at him, and Dain made room, although the space was crowded.
“Does your sister know where you are? You’ve been in here for quite some time now.” Dain nodded his head. He had told Aleida he wanted to go and read books, and she laughed and let him go, but he hadn’t told her he wanted to make a fort, so she might be upset.
“Can I ask you about what happened a few days ago, after you and I came in from the boats?” Josef and him had a good last day on the boat. Dain didn’t know why it was his last day, but he told him that it wasn’t safe anymore, and so Dain was scared.
“I went to the place I always go after we get back.” Dain meant that he would go to the East end of the port, where all the big ships were. He loved to watch them come in, and sometimes, depending on what exports were going out, someone might slip him a coin or two for helping load up.
“Did you talk to anyone?” Dain shook his head no, the typical way that he and Josef communicated. Dain had only been asked a question, he told Josef.
“Who asked you a question? What was the question?” Josef began to worry that something felt wrong about this encounter. Dain was hesitant to answer the questions, but they needed to get to the bottom of this. After breakfast, Aleida showed him the diamonds that were stuffed inside the small wooden horse that Dain was playing with the night they went looking for them. It was alarming, but Hadrian seemed hopeful that a switch could be made.
“I was helping Elder Jamison load boxes. There was one more that was set off to the side.” Dain looked down at the book of pictures again, and saw something familiar. There was a drawing of a man, tall and strong. He had on the traditional Highguard uniform. It was an all black uniform, with a sturdy leather cloak, and the unmistakable ebony sword.
Dain pointed, “I saw three men wearing these clothes come up to Elder Jamison. He looked scared, and they wanted to take the last box but it was my job to load it.” It all made sense to Josef now, and this was the last piece of the puzzle. The Highguards were a group of men in charge of policing the area. There had been rumors of foul play amongst the group, and that they did much of the dirty work for the High King. Though Josef had known wealth throughout his entire life, the diamonds that were in that bag Aleida showed him was enough to buy a small kingdom overseas. It was also enough to get them into some serious trouble in Gazdag. Josef asked Dain if there was anything else that he could remember.
“The men began shouting, and so a crowd formed. A strange woman that I had never seen before came up behind me, and she asked me the question.” He described her as wearing a long blue dress, that was worn at the bottoms. Her hair was unkempt and bony fingers gripped his shoulders when she spoke.
“She asked me, ‘Can you run fast, boy?’” The mysterious woman handed Dain the box, and he took it and ran past the docks, up towards the cabins but past them a little ways, into the forest. There was a hollowed out log, big enough for Dain to squeeze himself in, and he did, sitting on the damp wood. It was there that he opened the box of treasures. Looking past everything else, he saw the small wooden horse, adorned with gems and jewels, but most importantly, it was small, just like him. And so he kept it. Leaving the box of other things in his hiding spot, he ran home again, hugging the horse to his chest.