Child of Faith
During the first week of spring, there is always a celebration in the gardens of the Kings palace. Everyone in the land is invited, from the richest nobles to the poorest merchants. They dress in colorful silken clothes and wear bright masks covered with feathers. It’s the most beautiful thing, to see them spinning under the paper lanterns and singing with the old songs. It is a sad sign of age when I choose to sit upon the roof with my old friends instead of dance with the rest of them. Master Ritzu, the master scholar of the nearby university, has been asking me to write down my experiences since I was taken from the Fortress. I suppose there is no better time than now to begin.
This saga starts one thousand years before I was born. Many different kinds of creatures roamed the land; humans, unicorns, centaurs, giants, and such. Peace was law, and none dared to break it under penalty of death. Eventually, however, squabbles over land began to break the peace, and war broke out between the different races. Many left the land, sailing over the great ocean for a more peaceful life, leaving only the two most blood thirsty to finish the war.
The last standing races were the humans and the giants. After many bloody battles and destructive attacks, the humans were defeated. Instead of completely destroying their race, however, the giants struck a deal. The envied the petite beauty of the human females, and agreed to let the humans be as long as once every year, on the first eve of winter, a human female would be offered to come represent their kind. It was agreed, and life progressed. The humans built a fortress on the border between their land and the giants. It was there that the exchange happens. And it was there, fifty years ago, that I found myself.
Chapter One: Upon the wall
Dawn spread red and gold light across the snow-covered path leading from the mountains to the fortress. The forest that surrounded the path like little sentries was covered with a white layer of icing that sparkled in the morning. Standing on the fortress wall, dressed in only a thin, sleeveless white dress, I couldn’t help but think that at least the day of my death was a pretty one. At that point in time, being offered to the giants was merely a way of inhumanely destroying street rats. I was a thief and survived using my speed and knowledge of merchant ways. Then the guards had caught me a month before, and I had been thrown in jail until my punishment could be decided. With the day of exchange quickly approaching, I could only guess my fate.
There were no records of a woman returning home after the exchange, which led to rumors and frightening stories. Many of these were taken from the real tales and twisted to scare children into being good. The giants were said to eat the women they took, or force them into different kinds of slavery. Each of these thoughts made me shudder. It was also said that the weeklong journey to the giant’s kingdom was a test, to see if the right woman had been offered. If she didn’t satisfy the judges, they would kill her and come back for another.
These thoughts only increased my anxiety, and I glanced at the two guards stationed in front of the stairs. They were to keep me here on this wall until the giants came. With a shuddery sigh, I looked back towards the wide road. The giants would round the valley bend at any moment.
‘Any moment’ came too soon. Three giants, all males, rounded the corner. In the lead was a knight dressed in shining armor, his helmet tucked under his arm. Tidy brown hair was tied back from his face. Beside him strode a well-dressed man with short, slicked-back hair and sharp grey eyes. His red and gold tunic and leggings screamed wealth. Behind them trailed a younger boy dressed in a too-large robe with a sack thrown over his shoulder. They closed the gap between the mountain and the fortress unsettlingly fast.
I glanced at the courtyard behind the wall. It was as empty as a graveyard. Families stayed in their homes, scared of being snatched up by accident. Even the guards had retreated to the safety of the ground guardhouse, leaving the stairs wide open. I considered making a run for it, but the knight was already standing by the wall and would grab me before I got far.
The three lined up, the man on the left of the knight, the boy on the right. They looked down at me with their barrel-sized eyes. I couldn’t meet their gaze. The knight was the first to speak.
"What a beautiful choice they’ve made this year," he rumbled to his companions.
"The flowers in her hair are a lovely touch," the man said in a soft voice that betrayed his eyes.
The boy was the last to comment. "The others have left, Sir Strafe. It looks like a ghost town." I glanced back and had to agree. The entire fortress looked empty. "Shall we take her and go?"
The knight, Sir Strafe, smacked the back of the boys’ head. "This is a ceremony, Peter, not a kidnapping! There is no need to be so cruel." I glanced up, surprised at his stern tone towards the boy. He was just saying what was on his mind. The knight turned and looked back down. "If you are ready to go, Miss?" He asked.
I don’t remember if I answered. I do remember seeing a large glove-clad hand descending towards me at a rapid speed. My mind picked out its fight-or-flight response, and flight one. I scrambled back and trod on the back of my dress. With a surprised scream I tumbled back, my head cracking against the battlements. Fingers as large as trees quickly gathered me up from the stones, cradling me gently as they stole me from the only place I had ever known.
"Is she all right?" Peter asked anxiously. The man carefully uncurled his fingers and my body fell into the curve of his palm. The crown of flowers that ringed my deep brown hair slipped down over my eyes, and a gentle finger moved them back into place.
"It looks like she just bumped her head." He suggested, coaxing my head to the side. "She is not bleeding."
"You keep her, Corrington," Strafe ordered, tightening his gloves and giving the city a distasteful look. "The sooner we get away from this polluted place, the better."
"Yes," Corrington gave me a sad look, though I couldn’t fathom why. "She must have been told stories. It is the only reason she would react that way." To my horror, his face suddenly grew closer. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly, afraid that my reaction had made them angry. A finger gave my head a gentle pat, and the hand descended into a darkened space. I opened my eyes slightly and watched as red fabric rushed by. The hand dropped me into a hammock-like space and retreated. The man looked down at me through an opening, and I slowly put two and two together. He had placed me in the chest pocket of his tunic. He gave me a small, sad smile. "You’ll be warmer there." He explained, before gently patting the top of the pocket and closing the fabric.
I laid in shock for a time, conscious only to the swinging as the giants walked. I could hear Corrington’s heartbeat through the tunic, and above it came the muffled sound of deep voices conversing. The flowers slipped down over my eyes once more, but I was too tired to move them. I shut my eyes and concentrated on the man’s heartbeat, glad there was at least one consistent thing in my life.
Chapter 2: Frantic Escape
It was night by the time I awoke. The giants had set up camp in a small clearing, and one of them had thoughtfully given up their cloak for my bed. It was resting by a small fire they had built. On the other three sides of the fire were the giants, all stretched out and asleep.
If they were asleep, they wouldn’t be able to stop me from sneaking off into the surrounding forest and out of their lives. I shoved off the cloak and climbed to my feet, sliding to the frozen ground. I stumbled a bit, but managed to keep my balance. After making sure I hadn’t woken the three men up, I hurried across clearing. With a gasp of relief I slid into the forest and ran.
We had passed the magic border sometime while I slept. The trees were larger than ever, four or five times as tall as the giants that had taken me. I scrambled over tree roots and ice, forcing myself through the thin layer of snow that had sifted through the branches. I ignored the sharp ice that cut at my feet and was oblivious to the bloody trail I was leaving my captors. It didn’t matter; nothing mattered, except getting away from them.
I froze. Not by choice, mind you; my feet just stopped moving. I looked down dumbly, startled. My foot hung in mid air, frozen. I could barely see little silver strands leading off into the darkening forest. My stomach tightened; magic, it had to be. Magic was forbidden among the human race, for good reason. It was only ever used to kill.
"Did you have a nice run?"
I screamed and heard a thump as Corrington fell back in surprise. I twisted frantically, but the magic cords didn’t grant any leeway. A gentle finger touched my shoulder and a wave of heat swept through my limbs. I went limp, falling into the snow, staining my dress with the blood from my feet and hands. The silver cords wiggled away from my legs and arms, leaving me free, but unable to run. Corrington gently wrapped his hands around my shambled frame, pulling me close to his chest as he stood.
"Now then, we aren’t going to try that again, are we?" He asked, turning and walking back towards the camp. I watched from my prison and saw that I hadn’t gotten very far at all; perhaps two hundred yards in all. The man chuckled at my disappointment. "Don’t feel bad, little one. If the spell was not in place, you would have been long gone by morning."
Strafe and Peter were sitting by the fire, both looking rather peeved at being awoken. I turned my face towards Corrington’s chest as they spared me a glare. "There’s no need to scare her worse," the man chided them, moving to his sleeping mat. With a grateful sigh he stretched out on his stomach, laying me on his pillow. Pulling over the cloak I had been resting on earlier, he carefully tucked me in before covering himself up. "Now then, no more running; you’ll just hurt yourself." He ordered, nestling his head into his arms. His two companions returned to their own beds, watching me warily in case I decided to bolt again.
I tucked myself into a tight ball, pulling the cloak over my head. I would have to find a way to break that spell before I could escape. With a sigh, I relaxed; running tonight would do no good. My feet were bleeding as badly as my hands, and it hurt whenever I tried to move them. So for now, I would rest, and plan.
Chapter 3: Temper
I awoke to the sounds and smells of breakfast. Peter and Strafe were arguing over the best way to cook eggs while Corrington simply stood and watched. It gave me the jitters, seeing how tall he was compared to me. I had been high up on the wall, and last night I hadn’t been able to see him. Now, however, he was towering far, far above. It made me feel sick.
Feeling my stare, the man looked down and smiled. "Peter, Strafe, our little princess is awake."
I started at the title, feeling my cheeks blush red. Covering them with my hands, I concentrated on my lap, trying to stare a hole through my destroyed dress.
"I think you embarrassed her, Corrington." Peter chuckled as a gentle finger gave my head a pat. I glanced up and found him kneeling in front of me. "When did you last eat?"
I opened my mouth, but hesitated, scared he would be angry. He gently ruffled my dark hair. "You can tell me. I don’t bite."
Feeling my stomach twist at his choice of words, I somehow managed to answer. "Two days before the ceremony."
The giants stared at me in shock, and I quickly ducked my head and covered my face in shame. Luckily, Corrington came to my rescue.
"Peter, why don’t you and Strafe take care of the boundary magic?" He suggested pointedly. The two nodded and retreated from the clearing, leaving us alone. Corrington sat in front of me, looking concerned. "Why didn’t you tell us you hadn’t eaten?" He asked.
I hesitated, still ashamed. A gentle finger moved and massaged my back, and against my will I began to relax. "You can tell me anything," he said softly, "But lets start with something simple. What’s your name?"
That was an easy question. "Evelyn," I pulled my cloak-blanket tighter around my shoulders.
"Evelyn," Corrington let it roll about his mouth, "A beautiful name. I am Corrington, the kings chief advisor." My jolt of surprise ran through his fingers, and he gave my head a gentle pat. "Does that surprise you?" He asked pleasantly. I gave a small nod. "The King and Queen want only the best to watch over you. Strafe is the Captain of the Guards, and Peter is the apprentice of the Great Wizard Charles. You’re safer with us than anyone." A guilty look spread across his face. "But I should be getting you something to eat, shouldn’t I?" He asked, reaching over the burnt-out fire pit and grabbing the sack Peter had been carrying the morning before.
"You don’t have to worry about me, really!" I said weakly in protest, watching as he pulled out a smaller waterproofed bag. He opened it and pulled out a piece of dried traveling meat. My stomach rumbled in loud anticipation and I blushed once more. I had grown used to going days on end without food, but to see that meat—enough to feed me for a month—within his grasp, my stomach forgot its lessons.
He chuckled. "Yes, I do. The King would have my head if anything happened to you." He ripped off a small bit of meat and held it out. I curled my fingers about my dress to keep from snatching it out of his hand.
"So I have to be in perfect condition for the cook," I said softly, meaning to keep it in my head.
Corrington stared at me with a blank look for a moment before red began to creep into his cheeks. "What did those good-for-nothings tell you, Evelyn? That you would be eaten, or crushed, or made into a slave?" His voice grew louder and I shrunk back in shock. "What did they tell you Evelyn?"
A hand was suddenly shooting towards me. I screamed in surprise and scrambled to my feet, hearing my dress rip once more. The hand hit the ground where I had been a moment before. With a growl of frustration, he made another grab for me. I jumped back, but not fast enough. He grabbed the front of my dress and pulled. I stumbled forward into his hand, my dress now hanging in rags from my shoulders. He closed his hand tightly, and I gasped in pain as the air was shoved out of my lungs.
"Corrington!" I looked dizzily from my prison towards the forest. Peter and Strafe were running towards us, strings of silver cones clanking from their shoulders. Peter held out his hand, still shouting. "REST OF RESTLESS!"
The kings advisor slumped to the ground, his hand opening as he fell. I hit the ground, rolling across the frozen dirt. Gentle hands scooped me up and I was pressed against a warm wall of living fabric. Strafe leaned over Corrington and checked his pulse.
"Nice job, Peter," He complimented, straightening up and digging his toe into Corrington’s side.
Peter merely nodded, his hands cradling me gently. "Do you think it was Gloria again?" He asked.
"Probably." Strafe leaned down and shook Corrington’s shoulder. "C’mon, sleeping beauty, wake up." Peter, meanwhile, turned his attention towards me.
"Are you alright?" He asked in worry. I gave a very small nod, only able to guess how pitiful I looked in my ragged dress and tangled hair. Peter sighed in relief and looked to Corrington. "He gets like that sometimes," He said softly. "He doesn’t mean to, but it happens. Here," he set me in a pocket stitched in his robe, "Rest. We’ll work things out." The pocket swung as he bent over, and his fingers offered me a large piece of the meat. "Eat this until things calm down."
I took the food and began to nibble on it. The pocket swung a bit as Peter moved about, and I could hear a bit of shouting. I did my best to tune it out, finishing up my snack and curling up in the corner of the pocket. I wasn’t sure what to make of this strange situation anymore.
Chapter 4: Thieves
I was half-asleep in Corrington’s pocket. We had stopped for a simple lunch and I had been allowed to stretch my legs. Corrington ate a little ways away from us, looking ashamed of himself. Peter gave me a piece of bread and cheese and a drink of water to eat. Strafe and Peter watched me eat in polite glances, making sure I had enough and wasn’t lacking in anything. The most amazing thing was that by the time I was done, I was full. I had never felt full before in my life. It was—nice.
"Sir Strafe?" I looked up from my meal curiously.
The knight gave me a kind look from his perch on the boulder we had decided to rest at. "Yes, Miss Evelyn?"
I hesitated for a moment but decided to plow ahead. "What’s going to happen to me?"
"What do you mean?" Strafe slid to the ground and sat in front of me.
"When we reach the city, what are you going to do with me?" I asked again. Corrington had moved closer and was standing beside Peter. Both of them were watching the exchange curiously.
"When we reach the city," he mused quietly. "Well, we’ll take you straight to the palace to meet King Jay and Queen Emily. The other humans will be there too, with their own families."
"Families?" I asked, startled.
Peter nodded. "Yes. The people you stay with—the different royalty and nobles about the land—they become like family to you. If you want them too."
"That sounds nice," I said.
The three smiled and Strafe continued, "They other women will help get you ready for the ball. They’ll teach you all the customs and how to dance and everything."
"There is always a dance in the King’s courtyards to celebrate the coming of a new human." Corrington said softly.
"The food is unbelievable!" Peter interjected. "There’s beef and pheasant and all sorts of pies and cakes and fruits—"
"It’s very nice," Strafe interrupted. "Anyway, during the ball is when you’ll be adopted into a family."
I grew nervous. "Who’s going to adopt me?"
The knight grew uncomfortable. "Well, last year the King and Queen’s daughter grew sick and passed away. They miss her terribly, and dearly want another child. They’ll likely be the ones to adopt you."
"A king and a queen?" I asked, suddenly feeling rather faint. "No, no, no, they wouldn’t want me," I shook my head furiously. "I’m just a street-rat."
"A street-rat?" It finally dawned on my three guards. "You weren’t up on that wall willingly, were you? You were up there to be punished." Corrington deduced.
I gave a small nod. They looked upset at this new discovery.
"How could they do something so terrible?" Peter asked angrily.
"You’ll be much safer and happier with us," Corrington encouraged.
Strafe stood, stretching. "Well, now that the future has been discussed, shall we go face it?"
Corrington smiled and carefully swept me into his hands. I slid into his pocket, feeling much safer than I had so far. I wasn’t worried until I heard the crash.
Chapter 5: Thieves!
It was a loud, ear-splitting bang that sent me cowering into the corner of Corrington’s pocket. His hand came up and covered the fabric, and I welcomed the warmth that surrounded me as he did so. Faint voices—yelling, screaming and arguing—reached my ears in a jumble of nonsense. There was a grunt, and Corrington’s constant heart skipped a beat. My world was tossed head-over-heels as he fell, his protective hand falling away from the pocket. A shock ran through us both as he hit the ground and I tumbled out of the cloth and onto the hard ground between his shoulder and neck.
"Well what have we here?"
Grimy fingers with nails encrusted by filth plucked me out of the dirt. I coughed as my dress was shoved against my throat, choking me. I reached up and tangled my hands around the borderline lace, tugging hard. It ripped, leaving my windpipe open. Gasping to regain my breath, I looked at my new captor. It was a grimy old man dressed in rags, a hateful gleam in his eyes.
"Look here, boys! We’ve caught the royal escort to the new human!" He crowed. I winced; he was shouting, and it made my ears ring. Looking about, I could see Strafe and Peter were being held by several frayed men. Corrington was being dragged upright to join them.
"Release her, you scoundrels!" Strafe demanded through his dazed look.
My captor tightened his grip a bit, and I only managed to bite back a cry of pain. "Now, now, there’s no need to get upset, sir knight. I’m not hurting the dear, am I?" He gave my head a small pat. "You’ll get her back when the King pays our required ransom."
"Fiends! Scoundrels! Slime, each and every one of you!" Peter declared, and I could see his hands working rapidly in strange twitching motions. "You should be hung for your treason against the Great King Jay!"
"Hung, hmm?" Strafe began to grin, "That is a wonderful idea, Peter. What do you think, Corrington?"
The advisor nodded in agreement. "Get on with it, boy." He ordered.
"Already have," Peter chuckled and snapped his fingers. There was a crack, and every thief was hanging in the air by invisible threads, unable to move. The fingers around me tightened painfully, and I heard the man holding me curse under his breath.
Brushing himself off (and nursing a rather large bump on his head) Corrington strode to where we both hung. He held out his hand. "The girl, if you please." He demanded in a less-than-gentlemanly tone. The man spit in his face and cinched his grip once more. I gasped, feeling the food I had just eaten fight to come up. Corrington frowned at my exclamation of pain, and with a bone-shattering crack, managed to break the mans nose in seven places. The man screamed, his fists squeezing upon reflex. I choked and heard several snaps as several of my ribs managed to break.
"Evelyn!" Familiar, frantic voices were pounding down on me from all sides. I gasped in pain as someone touched my back, pressing against my ribs. There were more worried acclimations, but through the murky darkness overtaking my vision, I couldn’t tell who was yelling what.
The only words I can remember hearing to this day were ‘village, doctor,’ and ‘sorry.’
Chapter 6: Village Doctor
"Here there, sleeping beauty," A finger stroked my cheek, "You gave us quite a scare there for a while." I cracked open my eyes, and Corrington’s cheerful face filled my vision. Despite his dazzling smile, he had large black circles around his eyes. "How are you feeling?"
I thought hard, my mind still a bit muddled from my prolonged sleep. "Sore," I finally declared.
The man chuckled and ruffled my hair. "That is to be expected; you were hurt very badly." He sobered. "I am sorry that you had to go through with that. My deepest apologies would not be enough to express how terrible I feel."
I shook my head. "It’ s all right," I reassured him. He smiled and nodded.
"Go back to sleep. The doctor says that you still need plenty of rest."
"Yes. He’s the one who bandaged you up. But don’t worry about that now, though. You just rest."
I nodded and snuggled down into my makeshift pillow bed. Corrington carefully tucked the blankets about me and left the room, allowing me to sleep.
My rest only lasted a few hours. I awoke to sunlight streaming through the single window of the simple inn room I had been placed in. A woman, perhaps a bit older than my sixteen-years, was sitting on the windowsill, stitching something up. I watched quietly, too tired to do anything else. She was very pretty, with dark brown hair and green eyes as gorgeous as emerald. She hummed softly, glancing up after a moment of silence.
"Oh, good morning, dear!" She greeted, standing and moving to the bedside. "How are you feeling?"
"Sore and tired," I muttered, lying my head back. She clucked her tongue.
"Poor thing. Sleeping three days straight must be terrible."
"Three days?!" I sat up fast and screamed. My ribs felt as though they had ripped through my heart and chest. The woman quickly pushed me back down, looking worried.
"Yes, yes, three days, there is no need to fret. Master Peter went ahead to the kingdom to speak with the king and queen until the doctor says you are well enough to travel." She explained soothingly.
"Where am I?"
The woman smiled winningly. "Doctor Allis’s house; he allowed your companions and yourself to stay until you can travel again. He’s the one that patched you up."
I struggled into a sitting position (slowly, this time) and shoved off my blankets. My dress was gone, replaced by heavy, stiff bandages all around my torso. My legs were bare except for the sheet. I felt blood creep into my cheeks; first I had been forced into sacrificing myself for the good of my country, then caught running, scared out of my wits, grabbed and crushed by a murderous thief, and now some giant doctor had seen me without a scrap of clothing on!
I buried my head in my hands and tried to stifle my sobs. The woman set something down by my side and hurried out of the room. There was a murmur of conversation and heavier footsteps hurried into the room. Hands, gentle but well worked, gathered my blanket and me from the bed. I was moved against a familiar sea of red velvet and immediately curled my fingers around the wrinkles of Corrington’s tunic, hiding my head against his chest.
"You’re just not having a very good week, are you my dear?" He asked softly, stroking my tangled blonde hair away from my face. "We’re almost home; things will be better then."
"Your home," I muttered into his chest.
"Our home," he corrected me. "I know that you’re scared of the life awaiting you; I’d be worried if you weren’t. But I will be there every step of the way; I’ll never leave your side, Evelyn. You have nothing to fear from my kind or me. We’ll protect you from the streets you grew up in, and make sure that you live happily, comfortably, from here to the end of time."
I hiccupped into his shirt and felt his chest reverberate with his chuckles. "Poor little Evelyn," he sighed, shifting and sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Go to sleep; everything will be better in the morning."
I wanted to. Oh, how I wanted to fall into the deep comforting recess of sleep! But my mind wouldn’t allow it, so I lay there against his chest, trying to control my weak sobbing. We sat like that until Strafe entered, along with the morning sun.
Chapter 7: Gloria
During the small morning hours Corrington had leaned against the headboard and drifted off. That was how Strafe found us that morning, me struggling to stay awake, him out like a light. He chuckled and retreated from the room, coming back a few moments later with a tray of food and Peter in tow. My large pillow groaned and sat up, setting my blanket and I on the bed as he stretched. I wrapped the blanket around me tightly feeling embarrassed once more.
"Evelyn," Strafe beckoned, setting the tray of breakfast on the nightstand, "Come here for a moment."
Making sure the blanket was secure—and feeling a bit hesitant—I walked across the bed, around Corrington’s knee, and stood before Strafe. "Yes sir?"
"Please, just call me Strafe," he crouched down so he could be eye-level with me. "Peter brought back a gift from the royal city." He held out a small package wrapped in blue silk and tied with silver ribbon. I took it hesitantly, feeling three pairs of eyes surveying my every move. Carefully, I picked at the string and let it fall to the bed as I unwrapped the package.
It was a dress of light blue embroidered with gold. The packaging was a cloak that tied with silver rope-like thread and a heart-shaped clip around my throat. I stared at the gift in astonished horror. Something so beautiful could not be meant for me. I held it back out.
"You made a mistake." I told him in a soft whisper.
"A mistake?" Peter asked from above. "Do you not like the color blue?"
Blood crept into my cheeks at the thought of me being picky. "No, no, I love the color blue, but that dress is just so—so much more than what I deserve." I managed to stutter.
The three giants exchanged an understanding look. Corrington stretched out on the bed behind me, and Peter crouched down beside Strafe, surrounding me on all sides. I felt completely corned, the same way I had felt before the guards nabbed me in the alley near Main Street. I tried to suppress a shudder and failed; Corrington gently rubbed the top of my head in a comforting manner.
"Evelyn," Strafe began, "How long were you on the streets?"
I hesitated, but a smile from Corrington sent the truth spilling out of me. "Thirteen years."
The three sat back, all looking surprised—and a bit upset. I looked away, blushing.
"That’s a very long time to go without love or kindness," Strafe mused quietly. "I believe that when the queen learns of your past, she will do everything to make you more comfortable than you have ever been."
I perked up slightly; the queen, yes, I had forgotten about that part of my predicament. "How far are we from the Royal City?" I asked.
"Half a days travel." Corrington answered. "We would like to leave after breakfast, if you are feeling up to it, and if you are properly dressed."
Peter offered me the blue cloth once more, and I took it, looking at the dress appreciatively. The men left to speak with the doctor, allowing me to change into the clothing. The dress fit perfectly, clinging to my torso and swinging out from my waist in yards and yards of cloth. I pulled the cloak on and pinned it in place, enjoying the feeling of silk against my skin.
I pulled the skirt out and tried to move around. The dress slid easily along the bedspread, and I twirled around, watching the skirt furl out in a spiral from my waist. I felt so beautiful in that moment, for the first time believing that I could possibly be the daughter of a king and queen, even if they were bigger than me.
"Enjoying yourself?" Peter asked as my three guards came back in, tucking various medicine pouches into their newly acquired bags. I blushed, looking away slightly as Strafe took the breakfast tray from the nightstand. There was a table by the window that I hadn’t seen before; the three retreated to it, Corrington carefully sweeping me up as he passed by.
Breakfast was toast, eggs, milk, tea and coffee for Strafe. I sat on the edge of Corrington’s plate, nibbling on what he gave me. My ribs were feeling much better, and were no longer fighting to get out of my chest. The giants talked over my head about a few things, gulping down huge quantities of the food. I watched in quiet fascination as it disappeared.
"Is there something on my face, Evelyn?" Corrington asked in amusement. I blushed, shaking my head. "You’re face is so pretty in pink." He joked.
I smiled, still blushing, and nibbled on the corner of a piece of toast.
"The queen will love you," Strafe commented. "She loves children, and you will be no exception."
"She won’t care that I’m so tiny?" I asked.
"Of course not," Peter chided gently. "She loved Gloria with all her heart and soul."
"Gloria." The name was familiar. "Who’s Gloria?"
Corrington stood abruptly. "I’ll go check on our horses." He hurried out of the room. Strafe sighed before turning his attention back to me.
"Gloria was the girl sacrificed last year. She was very young, around twelve, I believe. Since she had been born, her heads had been filled with silly ideas and notions about being selected for the exchange. When she was chosen to be the next daughter of the exchange, she had a mental break down."
"It was terrible," Peter whispered softly. "We had to keep her with us all the way home. She was terrified we were going to hurt her or—ugh—eat her."
"Yes," Strafe cleared his throat, "Even stating the idea leaves a bad taste in my mouth." I found the pun rater ill placed, but didn’t comment. "Anyway, one night while we were traveling, she tried to run away across a frozen river we had camped by. The ice broke under her and she ended up soaking wet." He quieted. "She got very sick, and the doctors and wizards couldn’t help her. The stress and disease killed her only a few days after arriving at the palace."
I stared at the two in silent shock; of all the answers, this wasn’t the one I was expecting. After a moment of silence, I had to ask them.
"I won’t die there, will I?"
Strafe placed his hand on the table, palm up. I hesitated a moment before moving forward, carefully climbing on and sitting in the center of his calloused skin. He carefully brought me up close to his face.
"I promise you this, Evelyn: Nothing will ever happen to you. Nothing, nobody, will ever harm you. You will be cherished by a family and protected by Peter, Corrington, my troops and I." He said softly. "You are to become a princess, and you will be treated as such."
I gave him a rather watery smile. Nobody had ever cared about me before, not even the other street thieves I had lived with and saved for the past thirteen years. "Thank you."
"The horses are ready to go," Corrington announced from the doorway. Strafe placed me on the table and stacked the used plates on the breakfast tray.
"I’ll take this back down to Dr. Allis and meet you outside." He said, standing with the tray and sweeping past Corrington. Peter followed with a grin.
"I’ll grab our lunch from the ice box." He too disappeared.
Corrington sighed and looked at me. I shifted uncomfortably, a question wanting to burst from my mouth, but my body wanting to stay in one piece.
"Are you alright?" The advisor asked as he came closer, looking at me with worry. I nodded, but could tell that he didn’t buy it. "Something’s upsetting you," he noted. "C’mon, you can tell me."
"Corrington," I looked at him uncomfortably, "When you got angry at me," he flinched, "Peter said something about it being because of Gloria."
He was silent for a long moment. I was about to say, ‘forget it, it was none of my business,’ but surprisingly he took a seat with a heavy sigh and answered.
"I was scared you would end up like her," he said quietly. "I didn’t want you to die like she did, sick and frightened and thinking she was alone among monsters."
My response was cut off as Peter came into the room. "Corrington, hurry up! We’re going to be late! Bring your little lover and let’s go." He disappeared. I covered my red face with my hands, and couldn’t help but notice that my companion had a slight pink tinge in his own cheeks. He coughed through his embarrassment, swept me up into his hands and deposited me gently into his pocket. I curled up in the corner of the seams, tucking my dress around my feet to keep me warm. I didn’t mind that he hadn’t asked to pick me up; that movement had killed the embarrassing moment, and that was enough of an excuse for me.
I mentally followed his motion. Down a set of stairs, across a room, out a door into the cold winter air, through another door into what smelled like a stable, and a boost onto what was certainly a horse. My guess work was rewarded as a gentle, steady gait began beneath us. It rocked Corrington’s tunic back and forth, inviting a quiet nap. I took it up on its offer and slipped off into dreamland.
Chapter 8: The Castle and the Queen
"Evelyn, we’re here!"
"Shush, Peter! You’ll wake her up!"
"That’s the point. It’s time for her to meet King Jay and Queen Emily!"
I listened to the argument, purposefully keeping quiet as Peter and Corrington argued. I didn’t want to meet the King and Queen, no matter how nice they were supposed to be. They were royalty, and I was a street thief. There was no way anything good could come from this.
The pocket around me moved as Corrington let slip a sigh. "Alright, alright," he agreed. I glanced up and found several large fingers descending into my little alcove. My heart jumped for a moment and I forced myself to swallow it, hoping desperately that everything would turn out as rosy as they believed.
"Good morning Evelyn," my three guards greeted me as I emerged into the sunlit world. We were standing in a large hall. The walls were punctured by floor to ceiling windows, letting early evening sunlight splash across the blue tiled floor. I looked around, spotting a grand staircase at one end of the room, and a pair of gigantic doors at the other.
I rubbed at my eyes and faked a yawn. "What’s going on?" I asked in a faint, sleepy voice that was hopefully convincing enough for them.
"The King and Queen are coming, they want to meet you." Strafe explained, glancing at the stairs. "Ah, here they are now."
I looked towards the stairs and felt my hear skip a beat. A tall, well built man was standing at the top of the stairs, his hand entangled with that of a slightly-shorter, but no less stunning, woman. The man had brown, smooth hair and a handsome goatee that set off his bright blue eyes. He wore regal red clothes of the finest silk. His wife twisted her blonde hair behind her shoulder and smiled at the four of us, blue eyes sparkling. She lifted her sparkling cyan skirt and followed her husband down the stairs.
Corrington prodded me into a standing position as the three men bowed graciously to the royalty. King Jay opened his mouth to speak, but Queen Emily beat him too it.
"What a sweet little thing!" She exclaimed, bending over to get a better look at, of all things, me. "You must be Evelyn; Peter has told me all about you!" Behind her, King Jay and Strafe were speaking quietly, exchanging small smiles.
"Dear," the king placed his arm around her waist, pulling her back, "Give the poor girl some breathing room, please."
Corrington chuckled. "King Jay and Queen Emily, may I introduce the lovely Miss Evelyn," He bowed, carefully holding his hand level. I blushed and curtsied clumsily, earning more smiles from the royalty before us.
"It is an honor to meet you, Miss Evelyn." The king bent forward, taking my hand on his finger and gently kissing it. "I am King Jay James, ruler of the Giants." He stepped back and indicated the lady beside him. "This is Queen Emily James, my beautiful wife."
"It is such a pleasure, Evelyn." Emily said sincerely. "We heard about the attack during your travel; how are you feeling?"
I was at a loss for words; nobody ever asked me how I was feeling. "I, uh, I’m okay." I stuttered, wondering why they cared.
The queen frowned slightly. "Are you sure?" She asked, reaching down and brushing my forehead with the back of her pointer finger. "You seem a bit hot, and your face is bright red. Maybe you should go lay down; the ball has been postponed until next week. There’s plenty of time for you to recover."
I wasn’t sure what to say. The queen took my silence as a yes and held out her hands. "You can rest in our room," she nodded to her husband, "until you feel better."
Corrington nudged me forward. I carefully stepped onto the queen’s hand, sitting in the center of her palm as she straightened up and turned towards the stairs. "You’ll love it here," she promised, "There are so many wonderful things to do, and all of the other ladies will have so much fun with you here!" She rattled off different attractions in different parts of the palace and the surrounding land. I half-listened, watching the sparkling gold-flecked walls we passed. Eventually she stopped outside a pair of large, gold double doors. She pushed them open and entered a huge, beautiful room.
All I saw was the bed. It was as large as a sea, made of rippling silver sheets and rolling plains of golden-laced pillows. The queen swept across the room and flattened one of the pillows before carefully sliding me off her hand and onto the silk surface.
"There we are," Emily said pleasantly. She pulled the sheets of the bed up a bit, coaxing me to lay down before gently tucking me in. "You rest; we’ll take care of everything." She promised.
For once, I listened. Curling up and pulling the blankets under my chin, I sighed and settled down. The queen gently stroked my tangled mess of blonde hair, talking quietly. I fell asleep to her gentle, soothing voice, for the first time comfortable in my new life.
Chapter 9: A Chat With The King
A breathe of warm, minty air flowed over my face, brushing hair away from my eyes. I shivered as it left, being replaced by the frigid air of night. Hands—gentle and loving—moved a blanket up over my shoulders, relieving the cold.
"She refused to move you," A soft voice commented. I rolled onto my back, looking up at King Jay. He must have seen my face pale, because he chuckled and closed his book. "It’s all right, Miss Evelyn," he reassured me, "No one in this palace is going to hurt you."
I tried to sit up, clutching the blanket tightly to keep from freezing. The king placed his book on a nightstand and stretched out, lying down on his side facing me. My ribs gave a sharp crack of protest as I got into a sitting position, earning a small cry from my lips. King Jay easily pushed me back down onto my back with his pointer finger on my shoulder.
"You’re still injured; don’t try to move." He chastised quietly. I shut my eyes tightly, quivering beneath his finger. Moving his hand back, he smiled softly. "Please, don’t be afraid. I have no intention of hurting you, nor will I ever." He reached out again and touched a curl of my hair. "You are such a pretty little thing," he mused quietly as he reached behind him and suffocated the lamp, letting the flame flicker and die. He settled his head on his pillow and drifted off to sleep, his hand unconsciously sliding down and covering me like a concerned watchdog. The weight was comforting, not threatening, and as I watched him sleep, I decided to give this life a fair chance.