photo by Amber Leach
Candlelight parted with her shadow as she passed each candelabrum, marking the Prince’s new trail. With each step in her booted feet, with the thick, fur-lined cloak keeping her warm, she reclaimed her resolve. For later, after she had spent her evening with the Prince, Grendall would come to her again. This time, he would be in her territory and therefore their dealings would be in her terms. She had little to bargain with, but was determined to root out something he might want from her.
The candle’s trail led her to the first level of the castle and farther down the eastern end than she had traveled before. The gargoyles and columns gave way to narrower arches and stately doors. Even the tapestries, depicting the faces of beasts and winged women and men, of sea people and slithering, reptilian creatures, seemed clearer here. She soon realized this was because the trail was leading toward an open door ahead. The hall bent to the right and then she saw him, surrounded in a pool of white light that stretched past and obscured his shadow, until it dimly touched her feet.
“Beauty, I see you are wearing my gift,” the Prince growled out in a surprisingly soft voice and stretched out his hand towards her.
She slipped her black gloved hand in his without comment or question, though she very much wanted to know where he had been today. The Prince never came to her. She was brought always to him in the great hall where they had dined near every night of her imprisonment. That he only occupied his time with books, she highly doubted. Though at times, during their conversations, he seemed to carry the knowledge of the earth with him.
Yet she recalled his mention of trouble, while he had left her to study his text on the Eirwen Mountains. And the thought came to her then, that if there were ruffians causing trouble, as he put it, on the borders of his land, perhaps they would be willing to help her?
But at what cost to Wyvar and Lyttia and Myrel?
Was she selfish enough to trade the lives of people who weren’t even solid, living beings, she pondered. Surely they would want gold or something the Prince was keeping hidden away in this castle.
“Something troubles you, Beauty,” the Prince said, while he pressed his hand to the metal guard past the door. A long arched tunnel, covered with twisting ropes of dead vines and thorns, carried the pathway further outside the castle.
“I am only weary, I suppose.” Vynasha tried to peer through the cracks for any glimpse of real sunlight. It had been so long since she had felt it directly on her skin, and she longed for the days she worked in Wynyth’s rose garden.
“Were you so worried over my wellbeing, then?” He asked with a low rumble, and she realized he was laughing. Truthfully, she had not thought of him much at all the previous night. After his very direct proposal, she had only been able to see the renewed urgency of her escape, of finding her way to Ceddrych.
“I am grateful not to be alone,” she replied honestly. His chuckle made her shiver, through his covered furry arm, up through the fabric of her glove and into her skin.
“This castle can feel like a prison…” His voice fell silent after this and she froze when the gate opened at last and brilliant, white sunlight awaited them. She stiffened, until he added soothingly, “You are safe, I assure you, Beauty. Trust me.”
She nodded and glanced at his large, claw-toed feet as they stepped out into the soft snow. The drift made her glad for the tall boots Lyttia had left out for her this morning. At first, the sun was so consuming of every detail of her shadow trained eyes that she had difficulty adjusting. Her fingers pressed harder into the Prince’s velvety cloak as they stepped further into the frozen garden. Vaguely, she wondered if he truly needed protection when his body was already lined with such thick white fur.
The wind hit her first, gently as though it had been restrained. It tugged at her loose curls and carried the piney fern and earthy scent of the forest, of wylder places and the endless journey she had taken on the old beggar’s path. Tears pricked her eyes as she realized she had grown so accustomed to the scent of stone and must and decay. So when she blinked against the sun’s reflective glare, she felt the rest of the world rushing back with startling clarity.
The first thing she noticed was the clusters of berries, gleaming like drops of blood in the snow. Dead shrubs stood valiantly against winter’s harsh grip that lined out symmetrical rows, mapping out a strange pattern around the open garden. A fountain sat at the garden’s center and pathways were dusted, closer to the hidden ice coated earth. Snow fell over their heads in gentle waves, and when she looked back over her shoulder, she realized the castle was keeping the high mountain winds at bay. It rose high into the sky, so the tops of the uttermost towers were masked by lazy clouds that hid the face of the sun. Even though they were standing in the castle’s shadow, it was brighter than anything she had grown accustomed to during her stay.