The Journey of Emeline: Chapter Twelve
Gloriana was awoken by two of her servants. It was early in the morning and through the curtains she could see that snow had finally fallen overnight. They bathed her, dressed her, and after breakfast, she was free to roam around, doing as she pleased. There wasn’t much that Gloriana enjoyed, but rather there were things she did that passed the time quite nicely. There was the Weaving quarter. which held loads of dyed wool, ready to be put to the loom. This wasn’t something that she finished to fruition, but she started it, allowing the castle seamstresses to continue making the textiles. When it was warmer out, she could walk the grounds and tend to gardens, walking the mazes and admiring the fountains that poured cool water over the ancient stone. It would be far too cold for that today, and so she stayed inside, choosing to practice her painting.
Large strokes over the canvas, turned from streaks of blue, to a true winter sky. It was all about the blending, which was what her instructor had told her. It was after having a multitude of paintings done of Gloriana, that she became infatuated with learning the art. She was far from mastering it, but the way her servants cooed over the still lifes, she felt a sense of pride. She was without inspiration today, so rather than paint another bowl of fruit, Gloriana decided to give life to something else. Pushing all other thoughts away, she tried to remember every single detail. There was a rough, cobbled street that led towards the sea. On either side of the street, there were shops lined up, some were pubs, others were tailors or apothecaries. Hidden behind an assortment of trees was a well manicured house. It stood on the corner of the street, and was made of greystone, each laid by hand years and years ago. Gloriana opened her eyes and painted an outline, making sure to remember each terrance, where each window was built, and the heavy wooden door that greeted the front entrance. There was a rose bush that grew up to the second floor, and she made plans to paint that in later. The sea just barely visible in the background, it was almost as if she could smell the different foods and the spices and herbs used to cook them. It was almost as if this home came from a dream rather than a memory.
Disregarding the lingering feeling of regret, she continued to paint, and envision. The proportion were a bit off, and her vanishing points differed, but it was recognizable to her. The canvas almost made her feel at home, back again in Gazdag. The town, forever leaving a rotten taste in her mouth, and yet, a sweet feeling in her heart. The two could not be separated or one removed without the other. Pulled from her trance, a highguard cleared his throat behind her, and she turned, ready to snarl at him for disturbing her free time.
“Pardon, my Queen.” The highguard’s back was to her, which was custom for them to do. It took her awhile to assimilate to all the rules, but now she did it with ease.
“You are permitted to face me. Do, hurry though.” The guard did an about face, turning at 90 degrees to the right, then finishing with another 90 degree turn, facing Gloriana’s back, as she had already turned away, painting in the stables.
“I do apologize, I have a message from the Front Gate. It appears that one of your brother’s is here.” Gloriana turned, stood, still holding her brush so tight it could’ve snapped in half. The taste, bitter and rotten arose in her throat. Her eyes darted like two black mice, back and forth as she processed what was just spoken to her. Gloriana felt the fury, and spat at the apprehensive guard,
“Which one? Which one has come to finally pay his price?”
Hadrian knew what he had to do. He had been looking for a way to right the wrong he had created with the Low Grounders, but most importantly, Emeline. The letter that was in his bag was missing, and that either meant that he had dropped it on their travels, or Emeline had grabbed it, knowing full well that he had betrayed her people. The deal had been done for months, and the High council was the legislature for both Low and High Ground. It had been centuries since Low had a ruler, and thus, they were truly the forgotten people. The trading was minimal and exports flourished with no imports coming in to better their agriculture or streets.
If only Emeline had come into his life weeks earlier. He would’ve abandoned his mission. Hadrian would’ve stood between the council and the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives hadn’t mattered to him before, but now they did. Because of Emeline. Of course he knew that whatever friendship that they had, it had sailed. So this morning, after sneaking off to grab the box that Dain had left in the hollowed out log behind Fekete Lodges, he was off to see his sister. With a whole bunch of luck, the contents still seemed to be in tact, and there wasn’t much damage done. The crate looked plain from the outside, but was lined with a red velvet interior. There were nearly twenty other small animals that had ornate curves and jewels on their facade. Inside, there were small bags of other jewels, some diamonds, others rubies or gemstones that even Hadrian didn’t recognize. Each stone was a bargaining chip, and he intended to use each and everyone of them to get his family out of this mess.
It was no small thing, messing with the Highguards. Had he known that was who he was dealing with at the camp, he would’ve had much less courage. It was clear that the guards were dressed in more simple wear, as to not give away their cover. That was what gave him the idea to wear some of the clothes that Nai and Aleida were working on for the local merchants and their children. Donning a pair of worn, but lovingly patched fishing trousers and a white linen undershirt. There was a black jacket to go along with it, and one of their father’s old cloaks. It was heavy on him, both physically and mentally, but he moved swiftly back to the manor stables. The plan was to get past the main city gates, and make his way up towards the castle, without being spotted. Merchants traveled this way often, and so had Hadrian, but that was before he attacked a guard. Josef was on board, and he was preparing the house for departure if the exchange didn’t work. Emeline would sacrifice her life to get her family safe, and so would he.
Torek was all ready when Hadrian got back, and he dusted the snow off of his cloak hood, and stepped inside. Aleida was stroking her mane and turned when she heard Hadrian come in. She was wearing one of her own dresses again, instead of the nice ones she was given when Josef brought them to the home. They needed to stay hidden, even in plain sight. After Hadrian left, Nai, Dain, Josef, and Aleida would be closing up the manor and heading towards Fekete, staying at Josef’s small cabin near the shore.
“You barely look like yourself.” Aleida smiled a sort of worried smile, and finished tightening Torek’s straps. The cart was ready outside, packed with empty crates, covered with worn blankets.
“The clothes are itchier than I imagined they’d be.” She cracked a real smile and grabbed a bucket of water for the horse, allowing her to drink sloppily from it, before the half day’s trip.
“Hadrian, I have some concerns, and I wanted to share them with you.”
“Oh, well go on.” Hadrian watched as Aleida came around the other side of Torek, and faced him, her fingers intertwined, obviously nervous.
“Emeline is off and gone, with no knowledge of where we’ve disappeared to, if we do go somewhere.” She continued on,
“Would it be unwise for me to stay, just to see if she returns soon? I think it’ll be troublesome just to get the other three out. Dareema isn’t as young as before, and Dain is far too young. Josef knows what he’s doing, but I just can’t leave my sister like she left me.”
Hadrian was quiet, but he knew that what Aleida was saying was something he had thought about for the past few weeks. It took a lot of faith to believe that Emeline would actually return, safe and unharmed. That and a lot of luck on her part. He kept the thought to himself though, and hoped that when the time came to leave, he could simply force himself to either stay or leave. Nothing was ever that easy though.
“Do you think Josef could stand that? You staying here, in danger, while he sails off to god only knows where.” Hadrian paced back and forth in the stables, putting the pieces together in his mind.
“I wasn’t keen on the idea of telling him that was what I was doing. Also, it would only be for a few days, maybe even a month. I could catch another boat out, and meet you all there. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again if it means I can have some peace of mind when I arrive.” Aleida hadn’t told Hadrian the story of how she actually arrived in Fekete, and she didn’t intend on opening up until he did. All she knew was that if she could survive that, she could survive nearly anything. It was time for Hadrian to go, the sun was starting to rise, and he needed to be past the city gates by mid morning.
“Go say goodbye to your brother.” Hadrian grabbed Torek’s reigns and led her towards the stable door.
“What do you mean?” Aleida was concerned, and didn’t think anything would be happening so soon.
“Aleida, go say goodbye to him, and grab your things. You and I are going to go return this crate to my sister, and then we need to flee west. There’s another port just Northwest of Fekete, and it’s smaller, but I’ve traveled that way before.”
“I don’t understand.” Hadrian explained that once he returned the box, and they made it out alive, the High Council would still send after them to be arrested, or worse. The only chance they had to stay and leave behind for Emeline would be to pretend to get on a ship out of High Ground. The first place they would look would be Gazdag and Fekete Port. The next place to look would be the next closest port, Ketto.
“We haven’t gotten much time. Go into the library and write this out. Give it to Nai and tell her it’s direction for tonight.” There was so much for Aleida to do, and with the sun continuing to push its way into the sky, she turned and ran inside.
Hadrian get Torek set back into the cart, and began strapping her in. Usually he did this with his mule, but this was a faster trip. It would make trekking through the mountains seem like a holiday. Josef came strutting around the corner, also wearing a pair of ragged clothes. He looked worried, but his voice sounded more confident than he must’ve been.
“You up for the trip, brother?” He patted Hadrian hard on the shoulder and eyed the box in the back of the cart.
“Don’t have much of a choice now do I?”
“We all have a choice in this, but I know what you mean.” They talked for a bit, and then the two said goodbye with a stiff handshake a first, and then, with reality sinking in, a hug.
“You be careful now on your way to your cabin. I’ll meet you there after dusk if all goes well. I know the boat leaves soon after that.” Hadrian got up on the seat of the wooden cart and lifted his hood up over his dark hair, nodding to his brother. Josef turned and walked back to the house, choosing to go the back way past the stables. Aleida came out the back door and nearly ran into him.
“Where are you off to? Hadrian’s near ready to leave.” He stood tall, and Aleida almost liked him better in the old clothes.
“Hadrian forgot this and Dareema told me to bring it to him. I wanted to say goodbye to him, in case I don’t see him for a while.” Aleida didn’t know how to say goodbye to Josef, and afterall, he had saved her life.
“Okay, well hurry then, we promised Dain we would help him pack up his fort so he can make one at the lodge.” Aleida nodded and moved past him, a small bag of her belongings in her arms. Before he reached the door, she turned around and decided against doing the same thing that Emeline did.
“Josef I’m leaving. You won’t stop me, because you know it’s what I have to do. Take care of my brother for me, and make sure he keeps on reading his books and gets enough sleep.” Josef stood motionless as soft snow fell over him, blowing down from some of the tree branches. He walked towards her and held her in his arms, not in a way that felt like he was holding her back, but in a way that meant he was letting her go. Her hair was pressed against his cheek, and he moved his hands up against her face. Her tears fell over his fingers, and Aleida walked backwards.
“Goodbye.” She ran off towards Hadrian and Torek, because there really wasn’t much else to say and there wasn’t more time.