Chronicles of the Shadow Princess I - Truth and Lies: Part Five
Dawn sat in her room, her plushies sitting in a dusty pile in the corner. Shade was snuggled up on her pillow next to her head. She sniffed softly, half asleep. The little six-year-old hadn’t been much in the mood for playing. She kept thinking about her mother, who had died just a couple months ago.
A soft knocking at her door woke her up.
“Dawn? Someone’s here to see you.”
It was her father. Dawn lifted her head, momentarily forgetting her unhappiness. Her father almost never came to her room, unless it was her birthday.
The doorknob turned, and there stood King Frederic, smiling forlornly.
“Daughter? I have a new playmate for you. Your cousin Karalee, the royal Usul, is coming to live with us at the castle. She’s nine years old. She’s a little shy, though,” her father said kindly. He moved out of the way to reveal an Usul just a couple years older than Dawn. She looked at Dawn warily. Clamped in her arms’ grasp was a pink Kadoatie who was glaring. Its tail flicked this way and that in irritation.
“I'll leave you two to get acquainted,” the brown Lupe said. “Karalee, dear, your room is just down the hall. It’s the room with the red door. I already have had the servants put your stuff in there.”
He turned and exited the room, leaving the two girls alone. For a while, they remained silent, just looking at each other.
“So this is your room? Karalee asked after a few minutes.
“Yeah,” Dawn replied, retrieving the Darigan Grarrl Plushie from the huge pile.
“What is that?” Karalee asked, her nose wrinkling at the sight of the plump Darigan Grarrl. It had a tear in its tail- Shade had played a little too enthusiastically with it- and one of its red glaring eyes was a bit loose.
“It’s my Great Grarrl Shadow Thief Plushie,” Dawn replied. She held it out to her cousin. “Wanna see it?”
“Great Grarrl Shadow Thief Plushie? Erm,” Karalee said, taking a step back, looking slightly appalled. “No. No thank you.”
Dawn shrugged and put the evil, leering thief on the floor. She stepped closer to the royal Usul.
“What’s your Kadoatie’s name?” Dawn asked, reaching to pet the furry pink petpet. The Kadoatie hissed and snarled, swatting at Dawn's hand, claws outstretched, and leaving two long, angry, red scratches there.
“Ow!” Dawn yelped, jumping backwards, rubbing her paw vigorously.
“Leave Berra alone,” Karalee chided, cradling the spitting Kad closer. “She’s dreadfully frightened and gets terribly distressed when strange people flounce right up to her.”
“I didn’t flounce,” Dawn said, bemused. “I just went up to pet her.”
“You made an awful racket, though. Loud sounds alarm her.”
“Oh,” Dawn said, but she was still a bit puzzled. She shook her head and picked Shade up off from her pillow. She carried him over to Karalee.
“This is Shade,” she said proudly, holding him out. The black Gallion sniffed Berra with interest and crooned. Berra, however, didn’t take it as the friendly greeting that it was. The pink Kadoatie let out a shrill yowl and Karalee pulled her away from Shade, shielding her from the Gallion as though he was attacking her.
“Get that monster away from my sweet Berra!” She exclaimed. “He was about to bite her!”
“He was not!” Dawn shouted. Shade had flinched back, staring at Berra with wide orange eyes. “And he’s not a monster!”
Karalee turned and walked out of Dawn’s room in a huff, murmuring soothingly to her grouchy Kadoatie.
“I don’t know about this, Shade,” Dawn said, looking sadly at her Gallion.
Dawn had been restless ever since the day she and her father had had the discussion about her mother. She had taken to alternating between pacing for hours in her room or in sitting a reverie-like stupor, imagining different ways that she’d reunite with Aura. She did this for several days. Her energy, pent up inside of her, built up until she thought she’d scream in frustration.
“You don’t look at all well, dear,” Karalee observed dryly, brushing her flowing purple hair obsessively. She had been working on parting her hair perfectly for the past five hours. Normally, this would have driven Dawn to the edge, but now, she found herself yawning widely in Karalee’s room.
“Don’t start,” Dawn muttered. She hadn’t gotten more than three hours’ sleep in the past two days. She was so exhausted, she felt like she’d just drop off in the lurid pink chair she was sitting in. But her worn-out brain kept going, thinking, keeping her awake. The only reason she came into Karalee’s room was to get away from Nova and the others’ constant asking if she was feeling ill. And usually, everyone avoided Karalee and her ordering nature unless something in her room needed cleaning.
“I’m just pointing out a fact, Dawn,” she said, slowly dragging a few silky purple hairs into place. “You need your rest. You have gotten to be quite a pill, lately. Sleep deprivation will do that to you, no doubt.”
“I’ve just been thinking, Karalee. There has been so much going on lately. Father being so unrelentingly ill. And finding out that my Mother-”
She just stopped short of telling her cousin about her conversation with her father. She chanced a glance at the Usul. Karalee was still compulsively combing, but there was no doubt that there was a decrease in the volume of her fussing about her hair, and there was a definite prick in her ears. Dawn bit her lip, praying her cousin wouldn’t ask-
“What was that last part, dear?”
Dawn sighed and thought. Her father had told her to tell no one, but she desperately needed to tell someone. She felt like an overfull goblet of water- with yet more trickling in- the water’s surface bulging, balancing on the rim. Just a little more, and all would flow over the side.
Finally, she decided to tell her cousin.
“Fine. I’ll tell you. But you mustn’t tell anyone else about it.”
“Just promise not to say anything, please. Please.”
“Well, if it is that important to you, then I swear not to speak a word,” Karalee said exasperatedly, momentarily forgetting about her hair and turning to face the weary shadow Lupe. She studied her cousin with interest, knowing she was going to hear something very significant. She loved gossip and rumors above everything else.
In a moment it was all out. The water had spilled over the side of the goblet. Dawn told her about her mother truly being alive, her escape from the ship to Meridell, her fleeing to Terror Mountain, and the mysterious strangers who were after her. It felt as though a tight grip around her lungs had slowly unclenched. She did leave out some parts, including the letter, the name she used, and whereabouts in Terror Mountain she was supposedly living now.
Karalee’s eyes had grown wide and her mouth was hanging open. Several times she looked at the ground and cocked her head, as though trying to make sense of the things coming from her younger cousin’s mouth.
“So, hold on a moment. Your mother had never passed? She fled to Terror Mountain?” Karalee had asked incredulously once Dawn was finally done.
“Yeah,” Dawn said, feeling much better. “But remember, you said you’d never say a word of this.”
“I’d never dream of it,” Karalee said, though rater coldly. Dawn thought she felt very miffed about the fact that she had the juiciest gossip ever and she was forbidden to tell.
“Well, what are you going to do?”
Dawn, whose eyes had just shut, fluttered open again at Karalee’s question, shook her head to rid herself of a mild headache.
“Are you,” Karalee said slowly, hands on her hips, “or are you not going to do anything about it? If this was my mother, I’d act.”
“What? You mean,” Dawn said, trying to think. “You mean I should go find her?”
“Huh? No, dear,” the Usul said, surprised, setting her brush and comb on the ludicrously pink vanity. Even Berra seemed to be listening. “I meant something more along the lines of hiring someone to do it in secret.”
A few moments passed. They sluggishly turned to minutes. Dawn thought about the possibility of looking for her mother herself. At first, it seemed ridiculous, but the more she thought about it, the more realistic it seemed. Her father was in no state to do anything at this point, and he said that sending teams to search for her would just draw attention to her again. It did seem indeed that she was the only one capable for the job.
“I’ll do it,” Dawn muttered.
“No! I’ll go and find Mother myself. I’ll travel to Terror Mountain,” Dawn said. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. She found herself thinking of a route to take to get to Terror Mountain.
“What?!” Karalee cried, aghast. “You can’t just... It’s not... You wouldn’t be able... It’s just outlandish! A princess leaving the castle by herself to travel such a long way? It’s too dangerous!”
“I don’t care, Karalee. I’m doing it,” Dawn said firmly. “No one else is able to. My father can’t since he’s ill. And he can’t send a search party, because that would only draw attention to the search, which is the last thing my Father wants.”
Karalee seemed outraged and uncomfortable. Her eyes suddenly went wide for a moment, as though she had just understood something, and then she dropped her attitude. Dawn didn’t ask.
“Fine, dear,” she said, rather exasperated. “I obviously cannot stop you from acting on your whims.”
“I’m going to leave in a few days,” Dawn said, already planning her escape. “Remember, you’re to speak to no one about our discussion. But I’ll allow you to tell my father where I went no earlier than two days after my departure. That way, he cannot stop me.”
Karalee thought for the longest time. Then, finally, she sighed. Dawn’s eyes bored into hers.
“Alright, Dawn. I’ll do so.”
Just four days after her conversation with her cousin, Dawn was preparing for her departure. She ate a hearty meal the night she planned to leave, but she spoke to no one. She went to bed early, claiming that she was extremely tired, and didn’t feel the best. No one questioned it due to how she had been behaving lately.
Up in her room, she remained quiet, keeping the lights off and working tirelessly in the dark. She silently filled an old satchel with clothes, bandages and medicines she had snuck from Evra’s room, and some other essentials. She had felt bad about stealing from her friend, but she knew that Evra had much more. She then quietly waited until midnight. Though she stayed still for hours, it felt like minutes. The beating of her heart was all she could hear.
Dawn had lived around maids and servants long enough to know their daily habits and routines, including when they retired to their beds. When she was sure that every person in the castle was sleeping, she flung the satchel over her shoulder, and placed Shade behind her cloak’s hood.
She noiselessly crept out of her room and down the stairs towards the armory. Quick to make a decision, she chose the smallest weapon she could find, and easily conceal over the large, cumbersome broadswords, spears, and bows. It was a Thief Dagger. Stowing it and its sheath on her belt, she left the armory and headed towards the kitchens.
Feeling much like a thief herself, Dawn entered the large room. She began rummaging through the immense pantries. She took a cup, a plate, and a bowl and cushioned them in her satchel, before turning back to the pantry to get some food. She took sparingly, hoping that if anyone did notice an object’s absence, he or she would think it had been misplaced, and make some more. A couple of apples, dried mushrooms, a small jar of salt.
She had just reached for some strips of cured meat when she heard a noise. She paused; heart beating so loudly, she was sure someone passing by would hear it. She heard the rustle of armor and relaxed, though still holding her breath. The old guard was leaving his post. But her heart started racing again. She only had about two minutes before the new guard would take his place. Quickly, she stuffed several handfuls of cured meat into her bag and shut the pantry.
She moved as quickly and as stealthily as she could, hurrying to get to the front door before the new guard could see her. She turned the corner of the hall and saw the large front doors ahead of her. She scurried towards them in the shadows. She glanced back and, to her relief, saw no one. Shade remained silent.
Dawn continued forward and reached the doors. Slowly, she eased one open, careful to be aware of its creakiness. Fortunately, it remained as silent as the shadow Lupe. She edged out of the crack and quietly shut it.
It was a crisp night with a thin layer of snow. Thankfully, the snow was powdery and wouldn’t retain the shape of her pawprints. Patches of yellowish grass poked through here and there. She made sure that Shade and her satchel were secure and hurried away from the huge, oaken doors.
No guard ever saw her, but unbeknownst to Dawn, a pair of yellow eyes watched her exit. A tiny shape, hiding in the shadows, darted away before the next sentry would reach his place.
Dawn ran flat out up the hill that was just a quarter of a mile from the castle, her blue and purple cloak swishing softly. Panting, she reached the top of the step hill and turned to look back at the castle. She could see from a distance that the new sentry had taken his place and that no alarm had been raised. As she gazed on her only home for the last time she knew would be a while, her breath caught in her chest.
She could feel tears welling up in her eyes. One managed to slip past her eyelid, but she prevented any more from falling. She clutched her necklace hard, as if trying to siphon her sadness into it. Shade nuzzled her, trying to comfort her. She patted him gratefully, and then looked back at the castle.
“I promise I’ll return, Father,” she whispered out into the night. “I promise I’ll return as soon as I can. I’ll come back with Mother. I’ll restore things to the way they were. I promise.”
The shadow Lupe turned and with the swish of her cloak, she disappeared into the darkness. The shadow princess began her long journey North- towards Terror Mountain and Aura.