Please forgive the tardiness of this post! It’s technically still Monday, though, so it technically isn’t late. As an apology for making you wait longer than usual, this chapter is especially long.
Find previous chapters here.
What a beautiful night it was, with the air holding the coolness of the end of summer and the fragrant scent of the Golden Fern, which was once more golden. Joyce hummed to herself as she sat outside the servants’ entrance to the castle, polishing the cutlery. Strains of music from the festivities celebrating the healing of the Fern earlier that day drifted through the evening air. She glanced up at the few stars that were beginning to show and sighed in contentment. Her chores were almost done, and not once had she dropped clean silverware in the dirt or cut her finger on a hidden sharp edge. Ferngold was back to the way it should be.
Heavy steps and a muffled curse drew near around the corner. Joyce paused her polishing and tilted an ear toward the sound. “I told you to leave me alone,” a young man’s voice hissed.
A deeper voice answered him. “Aye, so you did, your majesty, but your parents gave me firm orders not to let ya out of my sight.”
“How will they find out? I won’t tell them.”
“But they got my family in custody,” the deep voice responded, “and they’re worth a peck more to me than you are. So I’ll be coming with you, if you don’t mind.”
“I clearly do mind.”
“And I clearly don’t care.”
The squabblers rounded the corner. Joyce coughed to alert them of her presence, arched an eyebrow, and went back to her chore, paying no mind to the well-clothed young man or his armored bodyguard.
The young man stiffened and strode toward her. “You,” he pointed.
She looked him over with an expression of disinterest. “Me?”
“I need into the dungeons,” he ordered. “You will take me there.”
“I will?” she pursed her lips. Really, it wasn’t enough to be ordered around all day by superiors. Would it really hurt people to ask instead of demand?
“Yes, you will,” the young man agreed, oblivious to her meaning.
“And why is that?”
He threw his shoulders as far back as they would go. “I need to speak with a young man who was imprisoned today. I am Prince William Kangraff of Poldar. I am the one who saved your sickly bush.”
She placed the last fork in her pot and stood, taking her polished silverware with her. “Well, thank you kindly for that, Prince, but I’d best be going now.”
Panic briefly flashed across his face. “Wait, why aren’t you helping me?”
She sighed. “Don’t they teach you manners in your fancy Prince education? You could at least ask, if you’re wanting a complete stranger to do a favor for you.”
Surprise crossed his dark brown eyes. “Oh. Um, will you take me to the dungeons?” His shoulders stiffened with the question.
“Please?” she prompted with an encouraging smile.
She gave a deep nod and gestured with her shoulder for him to follow. “I would be honored to assist our savior in his very odd endeavor.”
He was making progress, but still he neglected to add a “thank you” before he and his guard followed along behind her.
The festivities thankfully meant that few servants were in the regular passages. Joyce doubted it would be easy to explain why she and a foreign prince and escort were sneaking around the castle en route to the dungeons. She didn’t even know their reason. “What do you need in the dungeons?” she asked, fitting a key into the locked door that led to the prison passageway.
He hesitated. “I…the man I want to see, it’s my fault he’s there. He said a name I’ve heard in a dream.”
The jailor came to the grated door when Joyce knocked. She often brought the prisoners’ food, so he was familiar with her face. “Good evening, Joyce,” he greeted. “What brings you down so late? And who are your companions?”
“Hello, Charles,” she grinned at him. “This is the Prince of Poldar, who saved our Fern, and his nanny. They wished to speak with the prisoner who was brought in today.”
Charles chuckled and inspected the men beside her. “The boy who gave you that black eye?” he asked the prince.
William frowned and nodded sharply.
“Well, I guess you can come on in,” the jailor stepped aside from the grate to unlock the door and usher them inside. He led them to one of the cell doors, which likewise had a small grate. “Eh, Steven,” he called, poking his face up to the grille. “You got visitors.”
A face of a young man half-way between boyhood and adulthood appeared. The smile he wore slipped off his face when he saw the prince. This should be interesting, Joyce thought. She stepped aside to observe the exchange and appreciate its entertainment.
“What are you doing here?” the prisoner huffed. “Come to mock me some more, Willy?”
“Why do you call me that?” William gripped the iron bars and squinted at Steven.
He shook his head and pressed his lips together. “Aw, come on. We were mates. We worked side-by-side for a year. We were close as kin, Will, you and me. Why’re you acting all high and airy?”
“You must be lying,” the prince insisted. “I’ve never been to Ferngold before in my life. I’ve always lived in a horrible, drafty castle with the rats that scurry around my room at night as my closest friends.” He hesitated, then continued, “I have never seen you before in my life, but I feel like you speak the truth.”
Steven stood taller to grip the bars above William’s hands and lean as close as he could. His green eyes searched the prince’s face, then he dropped back. “You really believe that,” he said in wonder. “What did they do to you two?”
“Who? What did who do?”
“What do you remember?”
“I remember I’ve been planning to run away, but haven’t figured out how. Then a few weeks ago I woke up outside the castle with a little bloody handprint on my dirty sleeve, and no memory of where it came from.”
“Anything else odd happened recently?”
He shook his head. “No. Well, my parents got a sorcerer. And for a second I thought I had a sister.”
Steven hummed. “Well. I’m going to tell you, it seems you’ve forgot a whole year somehow. You did run away, and I found you and we apprenticed as scribes together. Then the Telling Tree called for you and told you to find my good friend Annette, and someone poisoned the Fern, and you two set out to Poldar to save us all. Then next thing I know you come back alone and don’t know me or her.”
“Annette,” the prince repeated her name. “I know that name. I should know that name, but I don’t.” His jaw twitched as he stared at the stone wall, deep in thought. Then he spun around, grabbed Charles the jailor’s stool, and swung it at the back of his guard’s head. Joyce shrieked and ducked out of the way, and Charles flinched. “What did you do that for?!” he shouted at the prince as the guard dropped unconscious to the floor.
“Good sir,” William said, “please inform the king and queen that Prince William of Poldar rescinded his charges against the apprentice Steven. If you would be so kind as to let him out, I would greatly appreciate it.”
“What?” all three of them responded in harmony.
“I can’t run away without my new page,” he said as if it was obvious. “Steven and I are going to find Annette.”
Please post your feedback! Look for Chapter 16 on Friday.