Chronicles of the Shadow Princess II - Allies: Part Five
Barty looked quite aghast and respectful at the same time. Gone from his face was any traces of senility, and he looked extremely alert.
“Yes,” Dawn said solemnly. “And you must be the acquaintance my mother escaped with after the... capsizing of her ship.”
“Aye. Your father must have told you,” he said gravely, still astounded.
“So you were the spy hired to bring my mother safely to Meridell,” Dawn said softly, her suspicions confirmed.
He nodded and glanced down at the photo once more. “You do look so much like your mother. That’s what flicked my memory of this old picture. Aye, but I failed to keep the promise I made with Her Royal Highness. I slipped too much into my role as a batty old Draik,” he sighed, putting a hand to his head. “Woe is me, for I’ve been trying to fool everyone, including myself. I kept telling myself I’m only acting old and forgetful. But I am getting old and forgetful. Soup Faerie living in the Ice Caves. I knew there was something fishy. It’s the Negg Faerie, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Dawn said, smiling slightly.
“And that’s your little Black Gallion, Shade, hm?”
Dawn nodded again. Barty looked forlorn, and Dawn understood. He felt bad about accidentally betraying Aura’s identity, even though it was to her own daughter and no harm was done.
“I’m looking for her, sir. My father, Frederic Everard-”
“-Good King, he is,” Barty interjected.
“-Is feeling ill. He’s been getting worse since my mother’s departure. I think his future depends on it, and I want us to be a whole family again. No one misses Mother more than he does.”
“And you’re going alone?”
“That’s how it must be. No one must know. Me by myself is a lot less attention-grabbing than a search party,” Dawn said.
“Well, yes Princess, that’s true, but someone will notice your disappearance,” Barty said.
“My father will cover it up, because I left him a way of knowing what I’m doing,” Dawn said quietly. “Now will you please tell me your side of the story? Please, Barty.”
Barty looked conflicted, and he shifted a good bit before settling and sighing.
“I seem to have no choice, do I?” he asked, fixing her with coherent eyes. “Very well.
“I’d known your mother since she was young, younger than your age. She was a vibrant girl, always positive. I had lived in the Everard Kingdom at the time, and she was of a position that no one aspired to be. She wasn’t a peasant, per se, but her family didn’t have much to their name, though I think they were once prosperous. Anyways, at the time, I was a neighbor of hers. She was constantly visiting, and we got along quite well.
“And, bless her soul, about six years later, she had caught the eye of the young and dashing then-Prince Frederic Everard. No one knows how they met, or how a commoner’s daughter was the one who received Prince Frederic’s affections when there were lines of 'eligible proper ladies' who some thought were better for the Prince. But, as you could imagine, most of them were probably stuffy, stuck-up girls who thought more of brushing their hair and throwing balls than relating to the people of the Everard Kingdom.”
Dawn smirked, remembering her cousin, Karalee and her absolutely horrid Kadoatie, Berra.
“Anyways, once Frederic took over after his father- your grand-father- King Lawrence, Aura turned out to be a better queen than anyone would have imagined. Besides me, that is. And, bless her, she kept in touch with me. She invited me over a couple of times for Christmas dinner, and I even met you once or twice when you were but a little tot. Well, sadly, I had to move away from the Everard Kingdom when my son’s wife got sick, and he needed help raising his farm. Still, she wrote letters. I almost think of her as a daughter.
“Anyway, when she learned of those who wanted her and Frederic out of power, she wrote to me, concerned. We continued to think of ways to keep her safe. Then, a couple years later, she wrote to me with wishes of helping to smuggle her away from danger. We planned it out over the course of a few months. I’d meet her ship on its way back from Mystery Island and intercept her, leaving the captain to make the ship look as though it was destroyed in a storm. I took her with me back to the peninsula of Meridell, and we stayed there for a week or so, lying low, and staying in my cellar. After a while, I sold my house, as my son’s wife had gotten better, and things were going smoothly in MeriAcres. We left for Brightvale, where I had purchased this cottage on the outskirts thanks to a generous gift of your father’s. Then she left, taking a route through the Haunted Woods with a guide who was loyal to your father.
“She’s sent me a few letters since, to let me know she was okay. Under the guise of Annabelle Avenhall, of course. And that’s the end of that,” Barty finished.
Dawn nodded, mulling things over. “So I have to go through the Woods as well.”
“What?!” Barty yelped, after taking an overlarge gulp of tea. “You’re mad! The Woods! How absurd! By yourself?”
“Yes, by myself,” Dawn said, wishing she hadn’t suggested it.
“But... but the Woods... So many dangers... why...” Barty ranted, almost incoherently.
“I can,” Dawn said quietly, “take care of myself. I have gotten a few lessons on self-defense from some of the knights at home.”
That was true, but they had been brief, and they had also been about a year ago. She fingered her dagger sheath, wishing, for once, that she had gotten more instructions on how to use swords. A sword was more intimidating than a dagger, and it might be of more use in the Haunted Woods.
“As that as it may,” Barty said grimly, fixing her with a stern eye. “The creatures that prowl the Woods are less afraid of weapons than you might think. Werelupes fear little unless it’s made of silver, ghosts cannot be hurt by things other than magic, and there are plenty of undead monsters who cannot be slain. Villains like Hubrid Nox and the ever-hungry Esophagor- and those who could be considered good aren’t too inclined to lend a helping hand.”
Dawn thought. Her Thief Dagger seemed more and more like a sharpened bit of metal instead of a proper weapon.
“You simply cannot do it, Princess.”
Dawn looked up at him, and saw him staring at her, as serious as one could be.
“I have no other choice,” she replied, adamantly staring back.
For minutes, it seemed, they watched each other, waiting for one to give under the other’s gaze. But Dawn wouldn’t. She couldn’t. She’d made a promise to her mother, to her father, to herself. Finally, Barty blinked. He looked sadly down at his cold tea and oatmeal and sighed a long, drawn-out sigh of reluctance.
“I see that I cannot persuade you otherwise,” he said quietly.
“In this matter, I am a boulder,” Dawn replied as quietly.
Barty nodded, looking forlorn once more. He looked at the statue above the mantel thoughtfully, as though he wasn’t even looking at it.
“At least take my assistance,” the Draik said slowly.
Dawn blinked. Even though Barty wasn’t as old as he first seemed, he couldn’t be suggesting going with her! That wouldn’t do well at all. What monster wouldn’t attack her just because an additional person was with her?
She snapped out of it when Barty stood up, walked over to the hearth, and paused by the statue, still gazing at it.
“Gargrin, wake up, you silly beast,” Barty said, speaking to the statue. Dawn blinked, wondering if Barty really was senile. But then Shade growled quietly. The statue stirred and sat up, blinking blearily.
“Gargrin, have you been paying any attention?” Barty asked it suspiciously.
The statue answered with a wide yawn and a dismissive twitch of its tail.
“I see. Well, wake up, you silly creature. There’s someone you need to meet,” Barty said brusquely. He scooped up the statue, which didn’t look too pleased at being woken up, and plopped it on the table.
“Gargrin, meet Dawn.”
Dawn was surprised to find that the statue was no statue at all. It was a Ganuthor. His fur was rather stiff, and was the color of stone. He peered at her critically with bright yellow eyes. Then he snorted and looked away. He didn’t seem to be impressed.
“Gargrin,” Barty said sharply. “Be polite. This is Dawn, the daughter of Queen Aura.”
Gargrin turned his eyes on her again, looking slightly more interested than before.
“That’s right. And you’d best be kind to her. You’re taking her through the Haunted Woods.”
“What?” Dawn exclaimed, looking at Barty in disbelief.
“Gargrin is my petpet. I’ve had him for years. He used to take my letters to your mother. He’s been through the Haunted Woods before, and he’ll know the way,” Barty said.
Gargrin merely looked sulky. He looked resentfully back at the warm mantel, then shifted his wings huffily.
“Are you sure?” Dawn asked uncertainly.
“Gargrin is able to watch out for himself. He may be a lazy old brute, but he can definitely hold his own,” the Draik explained. “Plus, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in places you don’t want to get lost in.”
Over the next fifteen minutes, Barty managed to convince Dawn to bring the reluctant Ganuthor with her.
“Humor me,” he said with a wink, once she had agreed exasperatedly and was getting prepared to head back to her inn. “Trust me, he’ll be worth it. Drop by here once you are leaving Brightvale so you can get him and I can say my farewells and good lucks.”
Dawn nodded, and thanked the Draik for the meal and the information, and went out the door.
Most were certainly up by this time, and she mixed with the small crowds heading into the main city of Brightvale. She smiled in spite of herself, happy that she had made an ally in Barty, eccentric though he may be. Shade crooned in her ear, feeling that she was happy for the moment, as they walked the roads that led to the inn. Dawn marveled at the town. It was so much bigger than the towns in Everard Kingdom. The people seemed so alive here- not that the ones back at home weren’t lively. It’s just that she hadn’t noticed it as much there, because that was before she knew the truth about things.
With a small smile on her face, she entered the tavern under the inn, nodded to the kindly keeper, Jax, and went up the stairs. Number Six, she recalled, was her room. But as she reached for the knob, she hesitated, as she heard voices behind that door. She strained her ears to hear. Gabe and Masque were arguing, though quite quietly.
“...all very suspicious, if you ask me, Masque.”
“I didn’t. And who are you to judge? For all you know...”
Dawn couldn’t hear the rest of Masque’s sentence. She silently inched closer to the door and listened.
“...don’t get why someone like that would be in a place like this,” Gabe said, sounding resentful.
“...not your business, either,” was the snippet of Masque’s retort that Dawn managed to hear. “Not any of our business...”
“Is so when someone lies...”
Dawn shivered. She hesitated, and then knocked. There was a hurried silence behind that door now.
“Who is it?” Masque asked.
“Me,” Dawn replied.
There was a positively dead silence now. Dawn didn’t wait for a response and opened the door.
Masque and Gabe sat on one bed, staring at her with expressions that unnerved Dawn. They both were looking at her differently. Masque looked both worried and as if she were seeing Dawn clearly for the first time. Gabe looked suspicious, and almost angry.
“Wh-what’s going on?” Dawn asked, feeling Shade tense on her shoulder.
“The innkeeper came and asked us for the money,” Masque said. Dawn had the feeling she was trying to change the subject.
“Yes, and I told you that you could use my money to pay for it,” Dawn affirmed impatiently. “But why are you two looking at me like that?”
“Well, you said I could just look in your satchel for the money. Only, it was kind of buried under things,” Masque looked apologetic and uncomfortable.
“Get to it,” Gabe said, rolling his eyes.
“Well, I found this,” Masque said, slowly pulling something out from behind her on the bed. She held it out to Dawn, and still looked apologetic.
Dawn, feeling apprehensive, took it, and felt her stomach lurch again. In her paws, at this very moment, was the same picture of Aura, Frederic, and herself that Barty had shown her just an hour and a half ago. And she suddenly realized why they were looking at her in the way that they were.
To be continued...