Chronicles of the Shadow Princess II - Allies: Part Four
Dawn was up with the Sun. But she was startled that once she got up, Masque opened her eyes. The Kougra must’ve had ears as good as her own.
“Why are you up so early, Endrah?” Masque asked, glancing out the window and seeing the beginnings of sunrays.
“I do that. Anyways, I’m going out to take a walk,” Dawn said, restless. She needed to think.
“What if the innkeeper comes and asks for the payment? Gabe and I could pay for it,” Masque started to say. But Dawn was shaking her head.
“No. You took me in. I’m paying. I’ll leave my bag here, so if he comes along, you can find the money and pay him,” Dawn said. Masque nodded gratefully, and set her head on the pillow again.
Dawn quietly closed the door behind her and made her way down the stairs. She crossed the tavern, empty of anyone except an old, bearded green Shoyru who was nodding off in a corner behind his steaming mug of hot milk. She felt relieved when she felt the cool morning air on her face and her breath floating up in white clouds before her. Shade was half-asleep around her neck, acting like a scarf to ward off the crisp chill.
Silence enveloped the sleeping city of Brightvale. She seemed to be the sole person to be out and about. Pale smoke curled from a few neighboring chimneys, but the inhabiting fires must have been made last night.
Dawn relished this chance to be alone. It reminded her of her balcony in the Everard Castle whenever she would wake up in the morning. She felt a pang and ignored it. She’d be home as soon as she possibly could, and her days there would be even better when she brought her mother back home. Though she enjoyed the company of Masque and even bitterly quiet Gabe, she liked to be alone now and then to ruminate. She pondered how she would be able to leave her two temporary companions so she could resume her journey through to Terror Mountain. She disliked the idea of ditching them in the middle of the night. They –or at least Masque- would worry about her. And she discarded the idea of saying she’d meet up with them and not returning. They’d wait, and eventually, one of them would think something bad happened to her.
As she mulled over her dilemma, she wandered towards the outskirts of the city. She paused, wondering how she’d get back. She had been concentrating on her musings, and she hadn’t paid attention to what streets she had taken. She shrugged to herself.
“Once more people wake up, I’ll ask somebody for directions back to the Draik’s Egg,” she muttered to herself. “Oh, I don’t know at all what I’m going to do. What do you think, Shade?”
Shade awoke with a start at the sound of his name and blinked blearily at her with his bright, intelligent orange eyes. He felt her unease, and he crooned, trying to reassure his mistress.
The sun rose higher, and signs of the inhabitants on the outskirts began to rise in frequency. Dawn sighed as she walked, looking around and wishing to see something, anything, familiar to ease her nerves and her home sickness. She’d definitely have to toughen up, because her journey had only just begun.
Dawn snapped out of her reverie. An old, green Draik had been traveling on the road with a cart full of firewood, but she hadn’t taken notice of him until now. The cart the Draik had been hauling had hit a bump in the road, and now the Draik was struggling to keep it from overturning.
“Oh, woe is me!” the Draik moaned to himself frantically. “I go past this blasted road every week with this blasted cart and not a single time do I fail to miss that thrice blasted bump. Eh?”
Someone had just come up beside him and grabbed the cart. His eyesight was poor, but he didn’t waste time studying the helper.
“Well, don’t jus’ stand there, lad, heave! Watch that log there, it’s abou’ to tumble. Steady, now, steady!”
Finally the cart was settled, and the stranger went about, picking up logs that had fallen. The Draik squinted his eyes, adjusted his spectacles, and saw a young shadow Lupess carefully replacing firewood on the stack.
“Oh, beggin’ your pardon. Yeh’re no lad. Yeh’re a lass. Well, thank ye kindly for the help. These ol’ bones aren’t as good as they used to be.”
Dawn looked up as she grabbed the last thick branch. The Draik was elderly, wore a pair of spectacles, and he appeared to be blind in his left eye. He smiled kindly, but he seemed slightly senile. He reminded her of an old servant who used to tell stories in the castle.
“No problem, sir,” she said politely.
“Well, I can hardly jus’ let someone so ‘elpful leave without a good hearty breakfast, can I? No, I cannot. Ol’ Barty never forgets a favor. So come with me, an’ I’ll fix up somethin’ for yeh. I could use a bit o’ company, anyhow.”
“Well,” Dawn said, her eyes straying back over the path she’d come. It was still quite early, and she hadn’t eaten yet. Gabe and Masque probably wouldn’t expect her to be back quite yet. She herself thought she’d be gone for a while. And it didn’t seem polite to turn down the kindly old Draik’s offer.
“I guess I’d be able to come for a short meal, thank you,” she said.
“The name’s Barty,” the Draik said as they walked, forgetting he had already said who he was. “What’s yer calling?”
“Oh, I’m known as Endrah,” Dawn replied, keeping an eye on the cart that Barty lugged behind him. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
“Boy, yeh look much like a fair acquaintance I used to have. She was a beautiful little lady, like a daughter to ol’ Barty. But she left a long time ago. Haven’t seen her in years. Though she still writes me now an’ then.”
They had reached Barty’s small cottage. It was rather quaint, with snow-tipped ivy leaves groping their way up one side of the small place. They carefully placed the cart of firewood outside the mahogany door, and they each took an armful of fuel, though Dawn carried considerably more than Barty. The old Draik continued to chat merrily as he led her inside, and showed her to a table a little ways from a small, sooty fireplace.
“There, you just sit yerself down right there, an’ Old Barty will make a cheery fire to warm our bones, how’s that sound, eh? An’ I’ll get us a bit o’ tea, that’ll help. And perhaps I have some porridge...” Barty trailed off, and shuffled to and fro, muttering to himself the whole while. Though the Draik was obviously a little eccentric, he was kind, and Dawn liked him. He seemed sincere.
“...Yes, she does remind me... light this fire... that porridge, I wonder if I have any raisins or almonds an’ cinnamon to have with...” he continued to mumble as he fumbled with lighting the logs. In a few minutes, two steaming bowls of oatmeal with cinnamon and plump raisins sat on the table in front of a warm fire that crackled happily.
“Dig in, now, dig in,” Barty encouraged. Dawn savored the taste. They ate in moderately cheery silence, sporadically punctured with a couple of sentence fragments and an occasional question from Barty. Most of it was mumbled, and Dawn had only just realized what he was saying.
“...Ah, how that lass’s youthful fur shone, an’ how she loved fair Meridell. Not as much as her homeland, o’ course...”
“Er... Who?” Dawn asked, feeling a tiny bit guilty after not listening.”
“The little lassie you remind me of. But, hey, Ol’ Barty has a picture here on the mantel. I’ll get it for yeh. Mind you, you’re getting’ a real treat, I don’t show many people this picture.”
With that, Barty abandoned his half-eaten porridge and shuffled off out of the room. Dawn chewed thoughtfully and looked around. The cabin looked well cared for, if a bit dusty with a couple of cobwebs. And it seemed a warm place to live in. There were many photographs about the cabin, and a grayish stone statue that sat on the mantel. It seemed to be of a sleeping winged creature, and it was carved realistically so its paws dangled off the mantel. Shade snuffled at it before crawling down to assist Dawn in clearing her bowl of delicious food.
A few minutes later, Barty shambled back into the room, cradling a small, old photograph. It was in a silver frame, and Barty was mumbling to himself again.
“Extraordinary likeness... Indeed... I wish she wrote more often.... Just as well... Ah, there we are,” The last few words were directed at Dawn, as Barty plunked himself back into his chair. He blew some dust off the frame, smiled reminiscently, then placed the photo flat on the table.
“There yeh are, Miss Endrah,” he said, scooting the photo towards her. “That’s the kind miss who writes to me now an’ then.”
Dawn looked somewhat interestedly at the photo, but then felt her mouth go dry and her stomach lurch.
“Who... who is this person?” Dawn asked with a slight shiver.
“Her? Why, that’s young... Annabelle... Annabelle Avenhall,” he said, stumbling a little bit on the name. A name that sounded very familiar.
Dawn remembered in a stroke of revelation. That Annabelle Avenhall was, in fact, not truly Annabelle Avenhall at all. Her very own mother was smiling up at her from the picture, standing next to a brown Lupe, she recognized as her father. And in her arms was another familiar person. A young, six-year-old version of herself. And on top of her head, was a tiny black Gallion. But how did this Barty person know Annabelle Avenhall- the false name her mother now lived under? Then something else stirred in her mind. Barty had said ‘Meridell’, not Brightvale. And that led to something else in her mind...
“This Annabelle... How long have you known her?”
“Anna? Oh, she’s been friends with me for a good twenty years, I believe. You see, I used to be a neighbor of hers, before I... Erm... Before I moved to... to... ah...” Barty was stumbling again.
Barty swallowed, and Dawn could have sworn that for a split-second, he looked uncomfortable, and not as sincere. But that senile smile was on his face again so quickly, she couldn’t be too sure.
“Terror Mountain. Had to move, you see. The cold is too much for my old bones,” he said confidently, though Dawn had a small, nagging suspicion.
“And who is this young girl here?” Dawn asked, wishing she didn’t have to draw attention to herself and the little black Gallion in the picture, but she had to know.
“That’s... That’s little.... Uh... Dotty. Dotty Avenhall, and that brown Lupe is King Frederic Everard. Er... he’s a... a relative of Annabelle’s,” he said, though through his absent-minded personality, he could have gotten away with the lie if Dawn hadn’t already known... And she was starting to put two and two together...
“Terror Mountain is beautiful. All the snow and ice. Tell me, does the Soup Faerie really live in the Ice Caves?” Dawn carefully baited the trap.
She could tell Barty was thinking. “Y-Yes. Yes she does.”
“Why don’t you tell me more about Aura?” Dawn asked casually, as though she were asking about the weather. Barty nearly dropped his teacup.
He fixed a milky, yet incredibly more lucid eye on her through his spectacles. “I haven’t the slightest idea who you are speaking of, young lady,” he said firmly, not sounding even half as batty as before.
“I suggest you look a tad closer at this picture before you say that,” Dawn said, tapping the small image of her younger self. She now knew who she was talking to.
“I don’t know what...” Barty started, just as firmly as before, but trailing off as he looked at the picture. After a few moments, his eyes widened with understanding before flying back up to meet hers.
“That... You... Princess Dawn?”
To be continued...