Sorry guys for my absence. I have what feels like worms. I can eat nothing without it hurting. Also, in my struggle with illness I have been writing a little bit of an experiment. I don’t know if I even want anybody reading it right now. Anyway, continue enjoying the adventures of Elayne and the Cord. This is A.B. and I am dying inside.
Elayne sat in the ready room waiting for the inevitable. She’d already changed into a simple blue dress and brown boots. She had combed out her silver hair by herself, she was too nervous to allow enchanted brushes to do it.
The Cord of Fate was stretched out to its full length before her; all three feet extracted from her skull and laying untethered on a table beside her. It glowed and pulsed softly with her heartbeat. The diadem rested alone on one of the counters that lined the walls.
Elayne, usually the picture of composure, the master of any situation, was riddled with anxiety. She had worn the diadem for eighteen years. It had been reshaped and resized but never removed from the Cord until now. She couldn’t even remember when she last had the Cord moved; all she knew was what they had told her about it.
Everywhere she looked she saw her own panicked face looking back at her from the mirrors on the wall. Why were there so many mirrors? Why couldn’t she walk the quarter mile back to her room? Why did she have to get it done here, where all the other Royals got ready for feasts?
This was the room where her older sister had gotten ready for her wedding. She could still remember Juliet, her oldest sister, checking herself in nearly every mirror. Juliet spun and spun in her white dress. Automaton birds controlled by magic fluttered around her, singing their bewitched song. Juliet was all perfect teeth smile, bright red hair braided with flowers, and fake butterflies; happy and free and about to be married. Most importantly Juliet was normal. No thoughts of a cursed Cord coming out of her skull kept her up at night. When Juliet got married, Elayne was ten years old. To be that young and wondering about fate, destiny and why she had been cursed.
Elayne remembered where she was while Juliet was pirouetting past her own reflection. Elayne was in the corner of the room fiddling with her cursed silver hair. She had just been told there was too much press outside, she wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding in the garden. It was too dangerous. If people knew of the Cord, that something could sway over the Royals and politicians, then everyone would be suspicious of their motives. The reasoning spiraled down from there. The result being that eventually the public would trust rulers again, but Elayne would forever have a stigma against her. She would be locked in the castle more than she already was and could never hold a Royal position or complete any Royal duties.
Roderick came to stand in front of her now. Twenty year old Elayne with the Cord hanging out of her head. With her consent he inspected the site where the Cord attached. No means of seeing inside her head had worked. Magic spells of scrying and transparency were rejected, violently. X Rays, MRI’s, and other such technology were unable to see inside her skull. Pulling past its full length made Elayne’s whole body ripple with horrible pain like her skeleton was being ripped out. They had never tried to cut it. Though one night near delirious, Elayne took scissors to the cursed Cord. The scissors broke, their blades bent at the point of contact. She was stuck with it.
“I have to say you showed an abundance of confidence today, Miss Elayne,” said Roderick
“I don’t have excessive confidence but a lack of shame. I suppose I never had a chance to gain any in my time at this castle. Now, please no more small talk, start the spell.”
Roderick sighed that old man sigh that sounded like years of exhaustion instead of a mere days’ worth. “This is an advanced spell usually meant to drive out the most harmful of curses. It requires three voices and a lute.” He pulled an MP3 player from his coat pocket. “Thankfully there are ways around that requirement. I will remind you again this will hurt. I have seen the most hardened men cry out for their mother’s. Their curses were being purged, yours will only move at this spell. Are you certain you want it moved to the top of your head?”
“Yes, I am sure. Please just get it over with.”
“Bite this.” He handed her a bundled rag. “It should stop the screaming.”
She stuffed the cotton in her mouth. It had a sickly taste.
Roderick pressed play on the device. Two voices started to sing in the language of magic while a lute played in the background. There always had to be a live performance to accompany a track. Roderick began to hum a deep base tone. His hand glowed a bright gold as he placed it on her head.
It hurt. It hurt like a knife stabbed into her skull and being forced up, slowly. The spell was meant to remove, to purge evil. It tried to remove the Cord. Her skin burned like acid as the Cord moved regretfully each fraction of an inch.
She could hardly hear the song over her own muffled screams. She kicked and shook but Roderick held her like a vice. She tried to escape, get away from this pain. She was going to die.
She was fading away from her body. If she didn’t do something fast, then she would be dead.
She lost control of her limbs and body. She was stuck. Was this how it felt to leave? She could feel nothing, taste nothing, see nothing but bright light.
The ceiling came back, that ugly white ceiling of the ready room. Her head fell down and she was staring at the speckled linoleum floor. This room was truly ugly.
The rag fell from her mouth, it retained its shape that bit into it. Her mouth tasted awful, like detergent. She moved her arms and legs like she just woke up. She wiped her face. The port for the Cord was gone from her forehead. She reached back gently, there it was in the part of her hair a few inches past her hairline. Roderick held out a blue headband tethered to the Cord.
Elayne drew the Cord into her head and carefully slid the headband onto her head.
“It is fully concealed, can’t see a thing,” he confirmed.
She ran to the mirror and observed her exposed forehead, a sight she couldn’t remember seeing.
“You look happy, Miss Elayne.”
“I am happy. I should have asked for this years ago.”
“You have a short memory to forget such pain, so fast.”
“The pain is over now and I am pleased with the results. That is all that matters,” she said flatly, her smile leveling out. For a moment Roderick glanced away and she grimaced.
“Ah, that is much better I feared my spell altered your brain. The Princess I know never smiled like that.”
“And to think that I was going to hug you in gratitude.”
“That would be most out of character.”
“It would have, but you would have loved it, you old lech.”
“I am sure I would have.”
“If you wish to change the shape or color of the headband, then there are dots on the inside. Run your finger across the dots and it will change. However, you need only worry about the feast you need to attend.”
“Thank you, Roderick. I will miss you”
“This is not goodbye, I will see you off tomorrow. And I will be joining the feast soon to perform some of my flashiest magic.”
“Then I will see you soon Roderick, farewell for now.”
“I will see you soon.”
Everyone is waiting for you, read the text from Ms. Lynch.
Be there in 1 min. Start w/o me.
They refuse, came the lightning fast reply.
They’re too traditional, thought Elayne.
Elayne entered the dining hall a moment later. Of the three in the castle, this one was her favorite. The main reason being it was everyone’s least favorite. This hall was the oldest in the castle. The windows were clouded glass set into the stone. The floors and walls were all rough stone. Electric lights hanging overhead mimicked the warm glow of candlelight. The flat surface of the table was one massive sliver of oak held up with crossbeams. The hall was only meant to seat twenty people, so few gatherings were held here. No wedding receptions took place here. Not for the last couple of decades, at least. None of her older siblings liked this place at all, and that made it perfect.
The soldiers rose from their seats and bowed as Elayne entered the room. They did not sit down until she was seated. Roy held her chair out for her.
“Was that action meant to gain favor? Are you trying to sneak into my good graces already?” she asked as he sat down at her right side.
“That was common courtesy. I am not so hopeful as to think you have good graces.”
“My, my, you are quite churlish. Are you aware you are speaking to a royal?” she leaned toward him.
“A royal who within moments of meeting me nearly molested me. Yes, I do know who I am addressing. Not that well granted, but enough to know she enjoys the occasional verbal duel. Am I wrong in my observation?” He leaned toward her. His eyes were jade colored circles.
Elayne couldn’t help but crack half a smile. “Have you been honing your wit since you have been sitting here?”
“No, I have not.” He sat back in his chair. “Since you silenced me with your hand in the hall.”
“I think I might have made a good choice picking you.”
“Wrong again, you made an excellent choice.”
Servers in black vests and dress attire broke through the heavy doors of the room. Some pushed carts of trays while others balanced them by their shoulders.
The head chef, a plump man in bright white, looked at Elayne for confirmation. She nodded in approval. In an instant the servers slid the numerous trays onto the table and removed the covers. The trays held a whole selection of food from the United States, the nation across the ocean. Among the table were her favorites. A selection of various barbeque smoked meats exploding with strong spices, including ribs, chicken and brisket. Beside them were several gallons of macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, an armada of gravy boats, plates of corn bread, biscuits, and massive bowls of coleslaw. The last cart to be wheeled in was a long dispenser for soft drinks.
“ Someone bring me a mason jar full of root beer,” Elayne ordered. “And pass me the ribs as well.” She went on until her plate was full and her drink beside her. “Eat!” she told the soldiers that were watching her. “I’m not stopping you.”
“You’ve got sauce all over your hands. It’s not very lady like,” said Roy as he spooned out potatoes.
“Yet none is on my face. I selected you to guard my life not my eating habits. You don’t eat barbecue with a fork, you eat it like an animal.” She pointed to her left at Aurora. “See?”
The cow eared woman froze on her third pork rib.
“Don’t let me stop you. I’m more surprised you eat meat. I thought you might be a herbivore.”
“I’m more cow inspired than cow-like,” said Aurora.
“Fascinating. See, Aurora doesn’t care how she eats, so neither should I.”
“I am well accustomed with Aurora’s eating habits. I said what I did, because you are the princess,” explained Roy.
“I don’t care and nobody else does. Nobody is even looking, so why do you care?”
“Well, I suppose I don’t really. I was just messing with you in more ways than one.”
“And what would those be?”
“Oh, you’ll see.”
Elayne ignored him and continued eating. Roy ate too, occasionally glancing over at her.
Once he looked at her she glared back and bit at the straw in her drink.
She bit air.
Roy broke out in a smile.
“What? Did you move my straw? Warn me to never cross you.” she moved and bit again.
She chomped air.
She actually kept focused on it and lunged toward it. The straw shifted just out of reach.
“Why not just grab it with your messy hands?”
She grabbed at it with her hand, the straw shifted violently to the other side of the glass.
“What did you do?”
“I enchanted it while you were talking to Aurora.”
“I didn’t hear you sing.”
“I hummed. It’s a simple enchantment really.” He tapped the bend in the straw. “Null.”
Elayne successfully grabbed her straw and took a long drag of soda. “Why do something like that?”
“I thought it would be funny, it was.”
“To do to your new employer? Who could fire you?”
“You don’t seem like the type to do that. You’re not that stuck up.”
“You’re right. I will get you back for this though.”
“Color me terrified.”
“You had better be.”
It was shortly after this that Elayne discovered Hikari was eating brisket and ribs with a knife and fork.
“No, Hikari you put brisket in a biscuit and eat it like a sandwich. And you eat ribs with your hands. Come now, we established this already,” said Elayne.
“Don’t bother,” said Roy wiping his hands with a wet wipe. He looked strangely at Hikari. “She’s the neatest eater I’ve ever known. She eats pizza with a knife and fork too. Sandwiches and hamburgers with their wrappings or a napkin and all other finger food she avoids.”
Hikari glanced up at him, but gave no other acknowledgment.
Elayne looked at both of them across the table. She cracked a smirk. These two were too easy to read.
“How long have you two been together?” Elayne asked.
Aurora choked on a gulp of soda and pounded on her chest.
Hikari calmly placed her silverware down. “We’re not.”
“Anymore,” Roy said.
Hikari had a fantastic glare.
“We might as well be honest and get it out of the way now,” he defended. “We were together two years and it’s been eight months since we broke up, but we’re still friends. We can still work together just fine. If this affects our current employment, then I will understand.” His voice took on a formal tone and it was easier to see Roy leading soldiers with that voice.
“What makes you think I care? I’m just glad that you two were together at one point otherwise the way you look at her Roy would be creepy.”
His blonde eyebrows knit together again.
“It won’t affect your ability to protect me, correct?”
“We are both professionals,” Hikari said flatly.
There was this rather strange silence.
Aurora looked like a lost puppy with her furry ears fallen against her hair.
Where most might change the subject, Elayne decided to power through.
“Aren’t there rules against dating in the army?”
“We dated at the academy,” Roy explained, picking at his potatoes with a fork. “They don’t have rules against fraternizing unless you’re to be sent out on missions. I told the adviser, to avoid those kind of issues. Other than that we tried to remain as discreet as possible.”
“Everybody knew,” Aurora admitted.
“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Hikari. She stood. “I have to use the restroom, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Down the hall on the right.”
“She gets uncomfortable talking about relationships. I think that’s just how she was raised.” Roy set down his fork in a defeated manner.
“I think this is going to be fascinating,” said Elayne.
Hikari eventually returned. By then everyone had eaten their fill. Aurora had conquered a whole rack of ribs, two helpings of mashed potatoes, three brisket buns and two cornbread muffins. She apparently wasn’t a big fan of cornbread. She also made it very clear she had a fast metabolism.
“How fast?” Elayne had asked.
“They used to have to give me double rations,” she replied sorrowfully.
The trays and plates were cleared away almost as fast as they had been set out. The servers were well trained. As soon as the serving staff dimmed the lights, Roderick entered the room. Alongside Roderick were five of his apprentices. Three of them had instruments, a guitar, a flute and hand held harp. The stringed instruments started first, a sad intro. When the flute began it sounded like weeping.
Roderick and every wizard except the flutist began to sing. Roderick took the lead as he displayed a bag of sand over his head. Magic glowing on the tip of his finger he cut open the bag. Sand fell out of the bag in spiral patterns as if it were natural. The sand lingered in the air and slid into illustration of a boy crying at a headstone.
Elayne knew this song well, it was the epic of Theo. The story of a farm boy whose father is killed by monsters and goes to slay said beasts. He goes on an adventure so long and arduous he ends up discovering a new country. The performance was always amazing. Sand formed both characters and settings. At one point in the play a dragon made of fire flew around the hero and audience. When the dragon was slain it burst into colorful confetti.
Elayne couldn’t really focus this time, her thoughts were somewhere else. Why had the Cord left her that note? Why was this the first time and would it be the last? A week ago she had snapped awake in her room. She had troubles sleeping so waking up in the night was nothing new. This time she was standing over her dresser holding a pen. She stumbled toward the vanity and switched on the light. Her fingers had slipped several times on the switch. The whole time her hand holding the pen stayed on the dresser like the sticky sweat that adhered her shirt to her chest. With some force she moved the pen wielding hand. It was cramped up near frozen in its pose. The light of the vanity barely reached the top of the dresser, but she could see the dark scribbles she etched into the wood.
Go to U.S. Gold Rush. Find Truth About Fate.
The next day, though she never got back to sleep, Elayne was given a list of royal duties. The only one the Cord liked was an offer to go to the United States, an ally of Kingsland, specifically the state Gold Rush. It was, basically, on the other side of the world. The occupation would give her the chance to investigate the Cord as well as a chance to practice her skills.
“Elayne, are you alright?” Roy asked.
The lights were bright again as she straightened up. She’d been leaning heavily to one side of her chair. “Yes, yes I am fine. Go mingle with the others; you might not see them again.”
Roy seemed to find that amusing. “Anyone I may miss currently works under me to protect you. Everyone else knows how I feel.”
Elayne tapped her lips with her finger.
The rest of the group was up from their chairs talking, hugging, and congratulating. Roy sat there quietly. They might as well be alone.
“ Don’t you feel any comradery for your fellow soldiers?” she posed.
“Those really aren’t soldiers leaving here tonight, they’re officials, generals, people that won’t leave a desk for years. Their weapons will slowly work their way into display cases or end up hanging on a wall. I come from a family of veterans; I’ve seen it happen before. The non-humans might have a harder time than most but soon they’ll all be sitting behind a stupid desk.” He removed his beret and used it to scratch his head.
“ What makes you think guarding me will be that exhilarating?”
“ I hope it’s not. I only hope it’s different. Maybe travel to places I’ve never been.”
“Wait, why did you make such an effort to graduate top of your class if you only had a chance to do something besides a desk job?”
“My father and my brothers would have ran me through had I not. The classes were pretty easy when you’ve already been to war. Most of the students served their two years at bases and camps, they never saw real combat. That’s why I picked who I did, I’ve seen them in the thick of it. So, yeah I did only have a slight chance of being picked, but then no one else here is qualified.”
“I never really had much of a choice then…” she mumbled.
“What was that?”
“Oh, nothing. I’m going to turn in for now. We leave the castle at seven tomorrow. Be here then. Pack clothes, weapons and whatever else you need. We’ll be gone for weeks. Dress and pack casual attire, we’re going to blend in. Relay that to your subordinates.”
“ Of course, Elayne.”
She stood. “You’ve never had a problem calling me by my first name and not my title. Why is that?”
“I made my way through the ranks as a leader not a follower. I have little trouble with disrespect.”
“Good to know. I will see you tomorrow then.”
“Yes, goodnight. Now don’t make a fuss I would rather leave quietly.”
Ms. Lynch was waiting out in the hall for Elayne. “I suspected you would leave early. You never were one for big events.”
They started walking.
“I was rarely invited to them. Still I thought they might at least talk to me more, maybe ask me to pose for a picture or something.”
“You don’t really seem like the kind of leader people would want to take selfies with. Remember when the U.S. President did it?”
“Those pictures looked ridiculous.”
“Yes, and I made sure to confiscate their cellphones. I also told them not to approach you. I think your attitude and demeanor upon picking the guards only confirmed that warning.”
“You weren’t even there for most of it.”
“ Roderick told me about it. He said you were rubbing against one of them.”
“I was not, I was testing to see how squeamish he was. I couldn’t have a weak kneed man guarding me.”
“You were trying to see how squeamish he was? It’s a good thing you managed to find someone who can put up with you besides me.”
“Oh, if only I could have you guard me Ms. Lynch.”
“I would definitely jump in front of a bullet for you. Although, I might shoot you first.”
“I will miss you dearly.”
“You can miss me from afar don’t worry. I have other matters to attend to.”
“Goodnight my dear Ms. Lynch.”
They parted ways, leaving Elayne alone in the great hall. It was a different place at night with most of it darkened. The thrones were always lit. The Rose Throne couldn’t be without illumination.
It shined like a beacon at the end of the hall. Elayne stood before the platform and the three steps that led up it. The Steps of Mercy they were once called. If a Royal were to descend them in front of a commoner, then that citizen was given pardon, mercy, or whatever they had requested of the crown.
The stairs had received that name in the days when beheading was still acceptable in civilized culture. More than a few centuries ago they had been deemed inhuman. Such choices as capital punishment were out of a Royal’s hands nowadays. Parliament had thought that a decision better left to the court system.
Elayne didn’t ascend the Steps of Mercy now though. She had never been able to stand on the platform while the press was around when she was younger. When they thought she was old enough she never wanted to appear alongside the throne. It was too late. She already spent twelve years hiding from the press. What harm would eight more do? Or even the rest of her stupid Cord dictated life?
She was fifth in line for that throne of carved gold. Her three older sisters had all moved out years ago. They all lived in mansions with their husbands and their spoiled children. Her sisters had comfy jobs visiting countries or troops, making speeches about overweight children in schools, and lobbying laws with parliament. The laws they passed were as asinine as they were ineffective. Such as banning fatty foods for kids. They had moronic campaigns that defied all logic and actual fact. Elayne remembered her sister Melody starting a campaign for equal pay while using an outdated statistic that was easily negated. Melody had froze when a reporter from a major news station had questioned her reasoning given the false data.
Melody and the rest of Elayne’s sisters were what happened when you raised people under a limelight. The perfect Royals, no power but a commanding presence and inherent celebrity. They had little influence, unlike their parents and parliament, but they did have unquestionable appeal to the people. When they got older they felt they needed to do something with their fame, maybe even earn it.
Elayne felt no such obligation or need. She had no fame only mystery. No limelight had hung over her head. The press had lost some of their interest in her when her mother, the queen, had cried for Elayne on television. After years of pestering to see the child princess as well as finding several trespassers on events and the grounds, the queen had put a stop to it all. The king had been asked the question but it was the sobs that served as a reply.
“My poor daughter is afflicted and you never stop pestering her,” the queen had said. Her blue eyes watered quickly before the watching press. Only the most brazen quietly snapped photos as she buried her face in her thin pale hands.
Candle light vigils were held for the ailing princess though she had no physical ailment affecting her. When the press questioned her treatment and illness, the Royal couple responded that the information was private and that the illness was incurable, all questions ended there.
What little information they had given out remained on news stations for some time, but then it faded.
Several photos were taken of her when she did exit the castle. They were glimpses, blurs, and never a clear shot of her or her face.
When, years later, Elayne heard of her mother’s response, she watched the footage for herself.She saw it as a dangerous precedent. Even if she covered her Cord completely she could never bask in the glow of a camera’s flash like her sisters and parents did. All she would have as a public princess was pity. The press would always question her lifelong affliction. They would want to help or wonder how close she was to death’s door so they could document it. They would ask why her hair wasn’t red like the queen’s and Juliet’s. A million questions pointed at her this time instead of her asking them like she preferred.
A landslide of questions would hit her if she approached a microphone; a situation she couldn’t talk her way out of. The queen might have thought she was doing what was best for Elayne, but she had doomed her instead. Elayne turned away from the Steps of Mercy like she had many things in her life. She had no wish to ascend them. A throne was not meant for her.
Her room was pitch black when she returned to it. No moon came through the window across from the door. She switched on the overhead lights. Even with them the room was dim. She preferred it that way. The walls, the carpeting and even the unmade bed were dark violet. All of which made a dim room a shade dimmer. The darkness helped hide the general clutter.
It wasn’t a horrible mess, it couldn’t be called disgusting. There were too many notebooks and papers on the purple desk beside her computer. Various remotes and DVDs were scattered on her TV stand. There were some clothes on the floor, she would get to them eventually. The maids didn’t like to come out to a wing for just one room, so she didn’t want to make them.
Elayne sat on her bed and removed her boots. The fan overhead clicked softly with each rotation, she would go mad in the silence of an empty wing. She threw her cotton blue dress into the hamper and changed into a t-shirt and boyshorts.
Removing the headband, she fiddled with the magic switches until it transformed into a simple white scarf which she tied at the back of her head to keep the hair out of her face. She was too anxious to sleep, that fact crept steadily into her. It was only nine fifty. She normally crashed around midnight. She eyed the capsules on her night stand, only one and she’d be asleep in a half hour or less. She knew she couldn’t sleep naturally for a while but she couldn’t stand to be awake much longer either.
She entered her restroom and took a sleeping pill with a mouthful of water from the sink. After washing off her makeup, brushing her teeth, plucking her eyebrows, and every other miscellaneous hygienic ritual she could think to do, she returned to bed. It was only ten twenty.
Her eyes were heavy and her body was slowed by the medicine. Her mind still continued on. The three travel bags by the door called to her. She had everything she would need, she didn’t have to check them again. If she was missing something, then she could just buy it when she got to the U.S.
She fell asleep that night to the glow of the television.