TATSLINA - The Gipsy Princess
Everything a 12‐year‐old girl could want packed into a story ‐ exciting adventure, fun, mystery, friendships, heroism, romance ‐ from playing in the waves at the beach with a rescued waif, to fighting the embodiment of evil using swordsmanship she was taught by a sea‐captain during a ship adventure. Kirsty has since published two fantasy stories written in her teens, and continues to write.
TATSLINA The Gipsy Princess Kirsty Anderson Aged twelve Illustrations by Kirsty Now grown up Valerie Yule Literacy Innovations Melbourne Australia Published 2009: Valerie Yule, Literacy Innovations, Melbourne, Australia Digital Publishing: Stephen Digby www.digbys.com ISBN: 978-0-9803893-4-0 �Author: Kirsty Anderson 2009, 16 Sunbury Crescent, Surrey Hills, Vic. Australia, 3127. Key-words: girls stories, childrens literature, young teen fiction, Australian literature, Australian children's books, fantasy, children's writing, child authors, adventure stories CONTENTS CHAPTER 1 - FLY BY NIGHT ............................................. 1 CHAPTER 2 � THE JOURNEY ON ................................... 16 CHAPTER 3 - TO THE SEA................................................ 27 CHAPTER 4 - LYNETTE ..................................................... 38 CHAPTER 5 - LYNETT ........................................................ 49 CHAPTER 6 - THE INN ...................................................... 55 CHAPTER 7 - FEVER ........................................................... 61 CHAPTER 8 - THE GYPSIES ............................................. 70 CHAPTER 9 - GYPSY GIRL ............................................... 81 CHAPTER 10 - YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD ............. 95 CHAPTER 11 - THE BATTLE............................................ 99 CHAPTER 12 - DOMMY................................................... 113 CHAPTER 13. ARE YOU REALLY? ............................. 128 CHAPTER 14 - THE AUNT .............................................. 141 CHAPTER 15 - I WANT TO BE FREE ............................ 151 CHAPTER 16 - THE END ................................................. 161 CHAPTER 1 - FLY BY NIGHT The girl stood still in the centre of the huge court room and waited for the waves of whispering to stop. "And my dear you should see the new kind of dress they discovered on that trip to Areia, quite marvellous. " "And then there's always that rumour of the Lortans attacking." "How silly, nothing like that could happen here in Cilia, why, it is known everywhere for its peace, intellect and marvellous fashions." The whispering suddenly stopped and the dancer looked up at the king from over her veil. Yes, he had given the signal. She very quickly looked down. Now the music started and the dancer lost all interest in everything but the wonderful music. Slowly she started and from the very minute she moved she had them entranced, with whirls, jumps, spins, pirouettes and intricate hand movements, all the time keeping in the mysterious music's centre as if she was a piece of it. Her eyes were flashing and her black hair streamed out behind her. Haunting and beautiful, she filled the space until finally the music stopped and everyone burst into applause. Even the king clapped with gusto until he finally motioned for silence to speak to the dancer waiting in the centre of the room. "Greetings to you, dancer, for giving us great pleasure. My only regret is that my daughter Tatslina isn't here to see such dancing. I hear she takes an interest in it." Something like a giggle came from the dancer and quickly changed to a cough. The king went on, "Though then again, knowing her, she is here already!" The audience tittered . Every night for two weeks the princess had been sent to her room at nine o'clock and every night she had managed to get in again, sometimes dressed as a page, sometimes coming in a big cake (the cook would do anything for her). She'd even come in as a tottering old nobleman complete with beard and wrinkles, 1 and each time it was nearly impossible to find her until she chose to be found or until someone happened to see her eyes, dead giveaways, a mixture of blue and green with brown flecks . As the crowd started tittering the dancer also started laughing and ran to the king and hugged him. "How did you like my disguise this time father," she giggled. The people of the court started laughing instead of tittering and the king and queen lifted their eyes in comical despair, though the king hugged her tightly all the same. Indeed, they would have been disappointed if she hadn't come. Now the ball really started. It had been half an hour since Tatslina had been sent to bed and since she was the life of everything no one had the heart to do anything until she arrived. It was only a second before she ran over to the musicians and asked them to play again, then she ran over to the prince whose honour the ball was in and asked him to dance. Then she lost her gaiety. "You're going tomorrow, aren't you, Torlan." It was not a question but a statement. "Yes, tomorrow at dawn," he answered slowly. "You won't forget to say goodbye?" Suddenly the music changed from a sad tune to a lively one and Tatslina said, "Look at that dress that lady is wearing, she looks like a birthday cake!" and started laughing, then whirled away as someone tapped her shoulder asking for a dance, leaving Tarlon wondering if it was only in his imagination that she had looked so sad. The next morning when Tarlon came to say goodbye she was in such a flurry of maids and barely seemed to remember he was going, but she was quiet for the whole of half an hour after he left, nearly a world record for the spoilt princess - but he was such a good person to gang up with to put frogs in her father's bed. She was silent for a minute, a great rarety. He was her cousin and she'd miss him, though, in a way she admitted, it was a relief he was gone, he was so cruel. He'd hunt and torment animals,and treat the servants as if they didn't have feelings, but when you came up against him, he'd smooth-talk 2 his way out. Now she could play with her real friends, the servants, something her cousin had laughed at, but they were her best friends - though sometimes suddenly, they'd say something and clap their hands guiltily over their mouths, or suddenly remember who she was and grow distant. She had memories of a year, a year when she had played in a forest, glimpses, she could see grubby faces grinning at her, and long skirts, running in bare feet on pine needles, but was it only a dream, she sometimes thought it was. But by the end of the day there was much more to worry about. There had been an attempt to murder the king. "Oh how dreadful, " the women murmured, fanning themselves. Nothing like that had happened in two hundred years. In fact, no one had been murdered in two hundred years, when as a gift the great Lera had put a protective shield around the city, so that violence of any sort was impossible. So the shield must be gone... But apart from shocking her out of thinking it would be a lot nicer to have Tarlon back to joke with, Tatslina forgot about it. Well, so it seemed to most people who didn't know she spent hours at a time reading about it, but that she only did at night. During the day she swam in her pool or had clothes fittings or learnt her harp or dancing. Then in the early morning she'd do her little bit of reading, but still she didn't fully realise how bad it really was until 'The' day. ---------The sun was streaming in the window when Tatslina woke. Late for once, she knew she should get up but couldn't be bothered. She had geography first today and so boring it was, what good would it ever do her, the sun felt nice on her face, and she fell back asleep until an irate tutor came and woke her up. The sun was just about to set when the queen came rushing into Tatslina's dancing class and grabbed her by the arm. She was crying and white, and Tatslina went white too when she heard what it was. "An army, it's outside the city, it 3 The Young Tatslina 4 will be in by morning," the queen gasped, hugging Tatslina, and one hot tear fell on her hand. All lights were on in the palace and in the city and the queen and Tatslina passed many scurrying maids as they half ran their way to Tatslina's bed chamber, Tatslina still in a state of semi shock. By that time the queen had recovered and quickly told Tatslina what to do. "Tats, don't question please, just do as I say, I've got four big chests for you here, pack all your favourite things, everything from bedclothes to clothes, but leave half a trunk empty. Now hurry!" the queen was almost crying again by the time she finished talking and as soon as she did so she ran from the room., her small embroidered slippers barely making a sound. Automatically Tatslina started packing. All her servants had gone so there was a strange silence in the room that was normally alive with people. The big room seemed empty. Tatslina had an enormous wardrobe, more than five hundred dresses in all and though normally she would have taken ages to choose, now she knew exactly what she wanted. She had just finished the second chest when Saleen her closest maid came in carrying a bag. "The queen sent me," was all she said, and silently helped Tatslina pack. They quickly finished, packing the third and half the fourth chest, then Tatslina found a pageboy scurrying in the crowded passageway, and sent him off to tell the Queen. Saleen sat quietly on the bed. and Tatslina walked over to the open balcony and looked out into the night. Her window looked out onto the sea and many a night she and her maids had dived in and gone swimming. It was quiet looking into the sea and the stars twinkled and shimmered on the water, and Twilea the goddess of love and mother of stars looked down, and it seemed to Tatslina as she stood on the shadowy balcony that she said, "I'll help you, I will." The little breeze seemed to agree as it gently caressed Tatslina's face and blew back her hair, and then for the first time she realised that if she was packing her bags she must be leaving, and somehow she knew she'd never see her room again and slowly a tear trickled down. 5 She remembered all her servants, how they had laughed and they wouldn't again that she would hear. There was only a faint light in her room now where once it was the brightest room in the house, well, palace, and once... "Tatslina." A hand fell on her shoulder and she looked round to see her mother and father, and four pages carrying two small chests. They went into the room and sat down on the bed, Tatslina leaning on her mother with her hand in her father's. "Tatslina, tonight you and Saleen are going to leave the city. In the stables is a donkey ready to take all your things. You will take all the crown jewels and all my childhood clothes and toys, they are all in these two chests, as well as most of the portraits in the gallery , they are all reduced to 1/500 their normal size. All the things you've packed will also be made smaller. You will not panic whatever happens and do try to get out of Cilia though I don't think you'll ever be safe again. Oh my darling," the Queen's arms tightened round Tatslina's back and the queen hid her face in Tatslina's hair. "Aren't you coming with me?" "No. It was seen in the well of the Gods that we would not survive, and neither would you if we went with you though we aren't sure what will happen to you any way," the king said sadly, then pulled himself together. "Come, we must go or it will be too late." The chests were organised and they went down to the stables where a small donkey was waiting. It was loaded and the last goodbyes were said. "Goodbye, mother, goodbye father, oh mother." Tatslina clung to her mother and father as she cried and they cried until finally she had to go. Then her mother gave her the black cloak that she was wearing and a shoulder bag, and her father gave her a small wooden box. `and with a final hug the two girls went out a back way into the city, but after only ten steps Tatslina ran back and gave them one more hug and a kiss. It was as Tatslina and Saleen walked through the streets that the screaming began, as one after another of the outposts round 6 the city was destroyed. Inside the houses lights ran from one room to another, as some were packing, some were preparing to fight. The street was only dimly lit and dark shadows fell everywhere. As they walked, their long court robes flowing, a dust cloud was raised, and as they came to the wider streets more and more people joined them on the road, some crying or wailing, some well-packed, some with hardly anything. And still the awful screaming went on. Children tugged at their parents' arms and asked why, why parents didn't know. There was dust everywhere. Tatslina kept her cloak drawn tightly around her, and felt down her leg - yes it was there, her sword, the sword of the family. Gradually they moved into the back streets again and people were less frequent, though they still had to do a lot of swerving to get through. And this chaos was the country she would have ruled, oh her poor country, most people were even more confused than she, how could it happen to them? Finally they came to the house Saleen must have been leading them to. It was on the very outskirts off the city. They went in the open door (even the laden donkey ) and through to the main room of the house where two old ladies and a merchant were waiting for them, who had obviously been informed by page they were coming. "You are the princess?" they asked Tatslina. She nodded wearily. Soon she would wake up from this nightmare. One of the women led her to a small bedroom. A brown peasant dress was waiting on the bed. The dress was a pretty gown in a odd way; the material was of rough cotton, and not the soft silks and velvets that she was used to, and it had red and golden threads embroidered round the neck and bottom. She put it on quickly, taking off all her jewelry but her birth necklace, which she never took off except to have another two pearls added when it grew too small. Then she put on the hood. "How do I look?" she asked with what could just pass for a smile. "Just right, but hurry hurry." 7 Tatslina shoved her old clothes and jewelry into her bag and followed the lady. When they got back to the main room Saleen too was changed. They quickly went through the house to the back door which led to the desert, and very slowly stepped outside. The desert was cold and open. Lights from the city danced on its edges forbiddingly, like goblins, mean and gloating, and they heard the screaming again. The house had shielded them from it but out of it the noise started again, and it was like a knife, and each new scream was like a extra twitch delving deeper into her heart. She covered her face with her spare hand, shaking her head, how could this have happened? They stepped out of the last of the flickering lights, and she took one last look back before stepping out into the darkness. The castle, tall and towering, with its high gracious turrets, of precious marble from the south - She looked on, until she could see what the glow around it was - fire, destroying and out of control - she could see it eating its way around. After one more agonizing glance she tore her eyes away, and her parents were in there, her parents. They walked on into the darkness, trying to block out the tears and screams, suffering for the people still trapped. Their teeth were clenched; one step after another they took and each foot seemed like it was made of lead. Saleen glanced over at her mistress, but Tatslina's face was expressionless, and she couldn't see her eyes. Suddenly they felt a pulling, trying to pull them back, towards the city. They pulled forward against it, and suddenly Tatslina was through - what must have been an invisible barrier. Saleen and the donkey were still pulling, pulling their way through with all their strength, but for every two steps she took she was pulled back three. "Go on, go on, it's magic, go on," Saleen gasped. Tatslina shook her head, "No" and suddenly it stopped, and Saleen was thrown out of it stumbling and tripping, pulling the donkey with her . 8 They started running , pulling up their skirts and jolting along, until they finally slowed to a sort of skip walk. Then they heard it , the sound of galloping horses, coming towards them. Tatslina and Saleen glanced at each other, with a despairing, "this isn't happening to us" look, and tried to look as small as possible. Tatslina's mind raced with thoughts but was still blank. There must be someway to get out of this, there must. She thought back to when she had looked through her parent's books of magic - invisibility, what was it she stumbled through it and hope surged through her. Saleen and the donkey started to fade, but suddenly, they flickered back to normal. Downcast she looked down and waited. The men on horseback rode right up to them and flung themselves off their horses. They were young, and they looked just like everyone else, any other group of young men that you find talking on street corners,whistling at the passing girls, and Tatslina was shocked, how could they, it held her speechless. "Hey you, don't you know that you aren't allowed out of the city. In!" They jerked their heads back towards the city. "No. We do not wish to." Tatslina spoke quietly but defiantly. "Oh, she does not wish it." they laughed coarsely and Tatslina and Saleen stuck their chins up , their eyes deadly. "No, we do not wish it, so we shall not." She spoke as cold as ice, and she could see that one with sad dreamy eyes was having a hard time not bowing as his instincts told him to at that tone of voice, and she felt sorry for him. "Oh the kitten's got a temper, and a royal sounding kitten too." one sneered. He stepped forward to grab them. Tatslina and Saleen stepped back. "We are not coming." "Oh yes you are." "We are not." Tatslina was starting to see red. These people were forcing her out, out of her home, away from mother, from father, her 9 servants and friends, her rooms, her sea. She put her hand down to her hip, where she could feel the hilt of her dancing sword, and stood still when Saleen and the donkey took another step back. The soldiers laughed, and it seemed like there was blood in the noise. She closed her eyes for an instant, trying to gather her thoughts. She heard the soldiers step forward and drew out the sword, so quickly it seemed to the soldiers that it appeared by magic. She spun round in one of her dance moves, cutting the nearest person, he fell, and she whirled on, spinning over the sand as if it was a dance floor. More soldiers stepped forward, their swords drawn and their eyes full of disbelief. This was a young girl of twelve or so, she was not supposed to be able to fight. A stir of suspicion entered their minds, Demon? they shook the thought away. She whirled on, every move they tried she blocked, but she couldn't really see it, this wasn't happening, she couldn't fight, it was impossible, soon very soon she'd wake up, she must, she must. But she didn't . Instead it went on, turn, cut, fall, dodge, and one by one the men dissapeared. It was all over in five minutes. After one horrified look at the four wounded or dead soldiers, Tatslina was sick, so much blood and she had done it, she hardly remembered doing it, when it was over, and she was certain she had used no movement known to man - two of the men were dead and two were wounded, She stepped back in shock, and went on going backwards - and she tripped and fell back on the cool sand, and sat there with her face in her hands, until Saleen came and helped her up. They continued on their way, leaving the pile of blood and corpses where they were. They walked faster after that, and the sound of the donkey's footsteps seemed strange in the calm and silent world. It was hard to believe that all that had happened, that night was real, that Tatslina would never see her parents again, that attack, and that she had actually killed someone, two people, people with families, wives, sweethearts. Tatslina shuddered as she walked. 10 -------It was the second morning they had been walking through the desert, and the two girls were tired and dirty, it seemed to be taking them so long. The endless plodding and heat, hair full of sand, tangled and dirty, sweaty and sticky, throats dry from thirst, as they daren't waste water, could they stand another day, with nowhere to go, nothing to look forward to, except another day, and another day. Why? was the main thing, why me, why now, why at all? The sun was burning hot and reflected from the sand so that it was hard to see, and still the plodding went on until night. Then they curled down beside the donkey with their cloaks tightly wrapped round and shivered in the freezing night, and tried to keep from thinking about all that had been and wasn't, and tears would slowly trickle down their cheeks and fall into their ears in warm little pools. That night Tatslina got too cold, and finally opened the bag that her father had given her, and that she hadn't wanted to open. She opened it. Inside were two wooden boxes, and something made up in a silken scarf. She slowly undid the scarf, and inside was a crystal marble. It was the gift to the country from the Goddess Twilea, through which you could talk to the Goddess. Carefully and with reverence Tatslina wrapped it up again, and put it back, and instead opened the first box. Thenshe jumped back in amazement; a bright light spilled out of it - the light dulled after a while and a voice came out of the box. "Well you took your time about it, didn't you," and out of the box leapt two tiny cats, as small as mice. "Do you think its pleasant being stuck in a box for three days , because if you did I assure you you're utterly and totally wrong -nice box though it be. It was awful, I couldn't stretch my claws at all, and my poor sister got awfully bruised. She's very delicate you know," one cat was saying. It continued, "Our names are Twiller and Mistlet. I am Twiller and my sister is Mistlet," Twiller gave a delicate wave of his tail and went on, "And we are your guardians and are to be treated with absolute care," Here he glowered fiercely. 11 Tatslina had a good look at the two cats. Twilea was a fluffy black tom with white feet and striking green eyes. Mistlet was a finely-boned white, black and orange cat, though the orange was a more goldy colour than orange. Mistlet had a black body with orange paws, and a white chest, and was just lying in a little bundle shivering. Tatslina bent and picked her up. She was very delicate, and her eyes, when you saw them closely, were a peculiar greyey blue. "Hullo, you're cold are you?" asked Tatslina as she gently stroked her with her finger. 'Yes, its so chilling in the desert night, is it not, and my coat is so thin." Mistlet spoke so softly that it was hard to hear the silvery voice. Tatslina was just going to find something to wrap Mistlet up in, when Twiller spoke from the ground. "Hey up there, I don't know about you, but I personally do not think that looking up at a ginormous foot is very amusing, in other words pick me up at once." Tatslina felt a sharp jab on her foot and suddenly remembered she had seen a dark shadow cross toward them, but had not thought it could be Twiller. She picked him up too, and gave him a gentle slap with a finger for hurting, before going to the only bag she ever opened, and getting out a scarf to wrap them in, before she put them back in their box for the night. The next morning at dawn Tatslina woke to find Twiller majestically walking in her hair - and pulling it out at the same time. '"Really, your majesty, your hair's awfully dirty and knotty, you really ought to take better care of it, look at my fur, its always neat. Now to get down to business, I'm hungry, whats for breakfast.." Tatslina, who had a sore back, eyes full of sleep and a mouth aching and dry from thirst, thought about strangling the little wretch, but instead rubbed her weary eyes and went to get some food. At least there was one good thing about the two cats, they were so small they hardly ate anything, thank Twilea. There was so little food left that Tatslina thought that whoever had packed it had made a mistake, and already she was wondering if they would make it to Tlearet. But she cast that from her mind and instead got the food, and went back 12 to where Twiller was waiting. "Ah I hope its good meat, I can't stand bad quality meat, really some of the things you put up with in this world are appalling, really they are," he said, gravely shaking his head, "Well, what world do you come from?" Tatslina challenged. "I, I come from the land of the faires. My sister and I were brought by your parents, we have no home now except where you are," he said, half sadly. Ooh, imagine having no home, no parents, no wait a minute, did she? Her home was gone, her parents....? Her nose started to have the prickly feeling she had before she started crying. Twiller saw the danger, and quickly went on talking, just as her lips began to tremble, "So don't you go living in any damp places, my delicate constitution couldn't stand it, really it couldnt." He looked up at her with mock sorrow in his eyes and shook his head again, as mournfully as an old lady telling someone for the fifty zillionth time about what a trouble her liver was, and Tatslina started to smile. It was already obvious that Twiller was as tough as she was. "And now while the other sleepyheads are asleep: I will sing and I will dance and I will play this merry little tune toora laddy toor a loo , won't you stay and listen to me Toor a laddy toor a loo, Tum tiddle tum tum. Yay. " He gave a very low bow and purred loudly as Tatslina clapped delightedly. It had been a most amusing little piece, for he had stood shakily on his two feet and given actions to the song just as any of the pub bands that sung it might have (not that Tatslina knew anything about pub bands), including a big toss of his furry head on the Yay. "Well, aren't I a most wonderful entertainer?" he asked modestly, 13 "Marvellous, marvellous," laughed Tatslina. "Hmmph, I don't see anything to laugh about, I thought I was superb, superb!" Twiller walked off in a huff, so Tatslina went to wake up Saleen and Mistlet so they could get started. -------It was midday when Tatslina decided to look and see if she could see how far they had come that 'they ' were spotted, a patrol riding this way in the black uniform that was so familiar, yet so unfamiliar. "Oh by Twilea, what are we to do -there's at least ten. I don't think we can fight so many! Oh Twilea, what are we to do?" Twiller, not the Goddess, replied from her shoulder. "Easy, can you work any magic?" "A little, not much. I wasn't taught any, and all that I know I came upon by accident. I am magic, but I don't know how to control it. I'm sorry." Tatslina hung her head guiltily as if it was her fault. "Oh well, can't be helped, I'll have to teach you one day. But now, well what to do is a problem. By now they'll probably be looking for you, reward on your head, that sort of thing, most unhandy. Mistlet, any ideas? I don't have any." Tatslina and Saleen were walking, half running, and though Twiller found it easy to talk from his imperial stance on top of Tatslina's shoulder it wasn't so easy for the two girls to talk and still go at the trot. "We could use the crystal marble, if Tatslina manages to put her magic into it. We might be able to convert it into a shield sort of thing." Mistlet said quietly. "No good at all my dear. They'd simply starve us out." "Only an idea." They went on as fast as possible but the patrol was coming closer. "Come on, come on, there must be a way out!" Tatslina cried in desperation . "I think I've got it!" cried Mistlet. "Tatslina, listen!" 14 Five minutes later the patrol saw a woman with so many robes and veils on she looked like she was ten feet wide. "Oh soldiers, soldiers, please help me - I am so upset, my friend has taken ill of the Red Fever and I need to get her to the holy water in Tlearet before she dies - but our donkey is slow and we will not reach her in time if you do not help - please, I beg!" The soldiers pulled their horses away and yelled "Get away from us! Do you think we would risk our lives just to help a wandering nomad, you must be crazy! We're looking for the princess, get away before you get us infected." The soldiers kicked their horses and rode away in the other direction - only thinking that night that that woman had the most peculiar colour eyes, bluey green with brown flecks. And everyone here had brown eyes. And her skin - wasn't it a bit lighter than it should be? Tatslina laughed as they fled away. Thank Twilea it had gone as planned, the soldiers were too worked up to notice her eyes. Thankfully the group went on, travelling through the night and at last being rewarded in the morning by the sight of the city of Tlearet. 15 CHAPTER 2 � THE JOURNEY ON Tlearet was a brown city, with dust everywhere, and winding stairways. It was next to a big oasis, fed from an underground spring, and you could see the girls and women going up and down the deep and rocky path to the waterside, with their terra-cotta pots balanced on their heads. There was a big gate around the city though, and once again there were the soldiers already at the gate. Now how they would get in was impossible. Tatslina was just at the stage in sleeping out that you feel like saying "Any minute now, I'm going to scream, really scream." This hot sticky feeling was something she'd never had before. Saleen was the one who knew what to do. After remaining practically silent since they had left the palace, she now told them the way in. "Yes, it is easy. You simply go in the priestesses' gateway, which is alway s open and never guarded." Saleen was right. The priestesses took them in without any questioning. Inside it was cool and shadowy. White-robed figures scurried to and fro, with bowls of water, fans and food. The priestess who greeted them at the door led them through to the courtyard, and gave the donkey to a servant to look after. They then led the travellers to their rooms, as silently as any of the nomads they looked after. One of them simply pointed to the hot water in the tub, to the white dresses on the bed for them to change into. and left. Thankfully and with great relish Tatslina and Saleen drew the curtains round the tub and gently stepped in. It was wonderful in the water, warm clean water. Tatslina loved it. Once she had taken two or three baths a day, and thought nothing of i. Now she treated it as a great luxury, and to step out into a nice comforting piece of material to dry with, and from thay into a soft, flowing clean gown was even better. To feel so clean, no knots or sand in her hair. Tatslina gratefully got into bed and wriggled slightly in between the crisp sheets, 16 before falling asleep with one arm flung over the pillow, and a slight smile on her face as she dreamed of "before". Twiller, sitting on her shoulder, remarked "If thats all it takes to make her happy, why didn't she just clean herself with her tongue like me?" Next morning the girls woke at dawn to find priestesses gently shaking them. "Come dress and help us, it is right that as the daughter of this land you should help our land. There is a new disease come here - The Wornt - it is deadly, and many in the city have come down with it. You shall help us while you stay, as we do not believe in idleness. Hurry, we start our rounds in half an hour." So started the beginning of their week with the priestesses. 17 So many sick and helpless, all looking for any escape from their agony. The priestesses washed and bandaged, gave potions and used their magic. To the outsiders they looked calm and unrushed, from a closer look they were very rushed and often in chaos - not the older ones, the high priestesses, but the young ones who had just joined. More and more people were struck with the disease, and the worse it became the busier the priestesses became. From one house to the next they went, never smiling, never frowning, apart from a jolly little city urchin who came from Bilowa, the capital city of Cilia where the palace had been. It was strange for Tatslina. Whole houses were half the size of her room back at Bilowa, and were made of makeshift furniture and drapings, with no water supply or anything. "Did my parents really let things get like this?" murmured Tatslina in amazement. "Oh no, no. It was the Lortan invaders, they forced everyone out of their homes, those that didn't manage to escape to the desert nomads. That is so. It wasn't your parents." one of priestesses explained. - - - - - - - The week passed, and then they were off again, trampling across the desert, this time with a guide to Lana in the country of Tilor, and they were going by camel, with the donkey tied onto the last camel. It was strange on the camel, high and smoothly jolting riding, and like nothing Tatslina was used to. At first at every jolt, even one ever so slight, she'd start and clutch at the saddle, but gradually she got used to the slow, easy movement, and just chatted with Twiller and Mistlet who were sitting as usual, one on either shoulder, with Twiller having adventures in her hair every now and then, and or gently biting her ear. Or sometimes the two cats would play tiggy, and Tatslina would laugh and giggle to feel them scurrying in and out of her hair, it was so ticklish! 18 It was not nearly such tired travelling now, with no aching limbs from walking, and at night warm in tents with the oil lamps giving a gentle light. Also the tent was warm against freezing nights, and they could actually look round to see the beautiful sunsets and the night sky, instead of seeing just a blur, being to tired to look. And they were magnificent, skies streaked with brilliant oranges and pinks, and starry skies going on and on for ever. The guide was fun to talk to. He was a shepherd, and somewhat grumpy at being forced by the priestesses to guide the girls to Lana. Why, his sheep and goats might be dying, well they certainly would be, with that rat Costella looking after them. (Costello also was furious at being asked by the priestesses to look after Borio the guide's sheep.) Everyone knew that Costella was a rat. Only last week he said that his measly sheep were better than Borio's nice fat ones, and if that wasn't rattish Borio didn't know what was. He loaded his complaints off on Tatslina, who seemed to have an awful cough, then he went off again to tell all his grievances to Saleen. They travelled on and on, and Tatslina was getting just a little sick of the everlasting sand, so much yellow, and then there was yellow, and after that came more yellow, and above that was clear blue sky without a cloud in sight. Slowly she dozed off, and suddenly felt a great sore pull on her earring. "Hey, whats that about you naughty little cat !" She gave Twiller a slap, and quickly felt sorry for it, when she heard Borio's desperate cry, "Sandstorm, sandstorm!" He was already off his camel and holding Saleen down while she got off. "What do we do now?" Tatslina asked. Would they run or not? It was miles away. "Oh silly ignorant little girl, we wrap in blankets and shelter behind the camel. It should be over by night, hurry, hurry." Quickly they did as he said, and it was lucky they did, for the sandstorm was upon them in five minutes, and everywhere, but everywhere there was sand, in faces, sand in eyes, down blankets and in the food, it found its way into everything. 19 Tatslina snuggled in a ball with her blanket wrapped tightly around her and her back by the camel's side. She couldn't hear anything for the sound of the wind was too high. Finally Tatslina got so bored she couldn't bear the waiting, doing nothing. She lifted her head up, very carefully, but it was a mistake, the sand was like knives, it cut into her face, her eyes, in her clothes. She ducked, very quickly. - - - - - - - The storm went on for what seemed like hours, but finally it died down, and they could stand up, with sore and creaking backs, and on again they went. Yellow yellow, she hated yellow, but sometimes, it seemed so beautiful, but other times so garish. And on and on, how many days had it been since Tlearet, Billowa, the storm even. She didn't even try to answer her own question, and water was running low. The oasis they had been counting on had been dry, the water a muddy trickle that was too mixed to drink, and their throats were dry and parched. When they saw giant stones ahead, large, and impressive, though worn by the wind and sand, that tried to reach the heavens, towering over the flat desert, Borio, Tatslina and Saleen started cantering towards them, rising and falling in the saddles, until they reached them. There might be water there. Borio reached them first, being more used to the camels than the two girls, and swung himself off even before the camel had finished jolting itself to the ground, and started looking for water. The girls joined in, but ten minutes later they had to admit there was none, and sadly went back to the camels, but Twiller was still walking round. Tatslina called him impatiently. "Twiller, you silly boy, come here. If you don't come here this instant I won't talk to you for two days!" He only waved his tail at her, and she shook her head angrily as he disappeared behind one of the huge stone pillars. Then Tatslina made the camel sit down again so she could get off, which it did, with a 20 cross snort, and Tatslina started running after Twiller, muttering crossly, "Wretched, wretched cat." Tatslina she ran among more and more of the big pillars, but every time she thought she saw the cat, he disappeared again, and she had a dreadful feeling she was lost. "Twiller?" she called hesitatingly. There was no reply. "Mistlet?" There was no reply. "Saleen?" she called. Great, she was lost. Twiller was lost. If she saw that cat..... She ran on, past pillars, and pillars, but all she could see was pillars, pillars and more pillars. She was begining to get anxious when she saw a door, a small door in one of the pillars of black marble. sSe slowed down, and stood still outside the door. Everything told her she shouldn't open it, but she did. Slowly, she pushed it open, and inside was a long dark twisting staircase. She put a delicate foot out, and started down the stairs, into the darkness. It was dry, and dusty, with a musty smell of incense, as she went down the stairs, trying to see into the dark. But she went on, and finally, after what seemed to be hundreds and hundreds of stairs, she saw a faint light, and started running towards it. And then there was a room, of drapes and incense, furs and fruits, gently lit with oil lamps, and in the far corner, under a canopy of silks woven with gold, were four people, two men and two ladies, and they were tall and willowy like trees, with eyes like lakes. "Greetings. my child," the first lady said. She was as white as snow and her eyes were blue yet grey, and grey yet green, her hair was pale brown and clasped up in a pearly clasp, she was wearing a dress of shimmering blue, with pink and purple mixed, like the sea at sunset,and her voice was like the wind that flies over the sea. Tatslina simply stood there, staring, and one of the men laughed. He had pitch black hair, and smouldering eyes, like 21 embers, his clothes looked like they were made of fire and his laugh was like a roar. Tatslina took a step back, and stared at the other two people. The other lady had mousy brown hair, and blue eyes like the sky, her dress was green, and she wore flowers in her hair, she smiled kindly, and held out her hands. Tatslina ran to them, and felt safe. The other man had black hair, but soft brown eyes and skin, he wore a dusky yellow, and he smiled kindly too. Tatslina smiled back. "Don't let our brother frighten you," he warned with a friendly laugh. "He won't hurt you." Tatslina nodded shyly, from where she sat on the lady' knees, the goddess's knees. "So you have come. We have been wanting to meet you. We have only seen you from a distance." the goddess murmured. "But we must tell you who we are. I am Lilea, goddess of the fertile land. My brother here," she nodded to the flaming god, "is Dart, god of the underground, my sister is Cile, goddess of the sea, and my other brother here, is Lorn, god of the deserts. Welcome," she smiled again. "We have been told by Twilea that great things are to happen to you, and that you are under her protection, her new protegee. You are the lucky one, she rarely chooses, and the last one was hundreds of years back. You are lucky, and so is she. If you were not hers I would ask that you were mine," Cile sighed in the voice of the wind. "Or mine," Lilea whispered. "I thought I belonged to myself." Tatslina spoke slowly. Dart the god of the underground laughed again. "You poor deluded fool, no one belongs to themselves. As soon as you love something you belong to them." He looked pointedly at Cile, who blushed ever so slightly , and looked away. "Yes," the god of the desert agreed, "No one belongs to themself." The goddesses nodded, "No one belongs to themselves." "But I will, I will!" Tatslina said, crossly. 22 "There, there, my angry little chick, you will understand later," the goddess of the fertile lands comforted, stroking her hair. "Will I? I don't want to," she said again, and the gods smiled. "You won't be able to help it. Dart tried to avoid it, but then he met Cile," the god of deserts laughed. Yes, and you, most of all, will never be your own. You may try all you want, but now you belong to us, to Twilea, and Twiller, Mistlet, there are more to come too. One day you will understand." The gods smiled amusedly at each other. Tatslina glowered, "Do I really belong to you?" They nodded. "Yes, you always have in a way, but now you are truly ours." She sighed, though she still fought it. "But now, let us talk of other things. Dart, I am cross with you, you killed one of my favourite trees and a whole herd of deer, as well as two pixies in your latest volcano!" Lilea chided. Dart only grinned. "I was happy, and I forgot about your tree there." "You forgot about my tree, that is not a good excuse." Her voice was like ice now, and Tatslina shivered. Lilea felt it and looked down, then sent huge rays of warmth down. Tatslina smiled, and snuggled back, she wasn't frightened any more. "And Cile, can you talk to Wind. I heard he was visiting your castle. He made a awful hurricane in Kared, and he didn't tell me. He knows I always like to warn the pixies so they can warn the animals," Lilea asked. Tatslina woke up from the semi-doze she'd been in. "But I thought you looked after the weather." she questioned. "Oh no, the weather gods do that. There are about six main ones with other smaller gods under them. No, I only care for the animals and plants, the pixies and people, though I try to stay out of human's way, you never know what they might do, 23 and they've got all these nice technical reasons for all the things we do, and we don't want to mess up all their work, do we!" Lilea laughed. She seemed to be the happiest and merriest. Tatslina joined in. "Yes, you are right, a learner once came to our palace and told us the reason the sun rose and set was that 43289 by the square root of 5784 times 567876 equalled 1039534!" she giggled, "and he had so many books and scrolls to prove it, I think papa put him in one of the towers with ten blank books and left him there to figure out why Twilea was silver!" She giggled again, and they laughed. "Yes, I will never understand humans. It is so simple. The sun sets and rises because Sula the sun god chooses and he wants the night to play in, the moon is silver because Twilea likes shimmering clothes and from a distance anything that shimmers looks silvery." Lilea giggled too. "But come, let us take you on a journey across the earth. Whose chariot should we take?" "Mine is best on water." "Mine is too hot." "I lent mine to some pixies." They took the chariot of the desert god. It appeared before them in a flash, and as soon as they were in it, the room vanished, and they were in the sky, blue and endless. Underneath them she could see the desert, and it looked almost like a sea. She could see the huge stones, and the small dots that were the donkey and Saleen. Then they went on and on, until the green turned to khaki and then to a deep rich green, and she could see a river running through it. She closed her eyes and soaked it in. "You like it?" she heard Lilea ask. "Yes, it's gorgeous." She smiled and held out her arms to the wind and the sun. The gods laughed. "Mortals are so enchanting. With us we don't seem to feel things so much, no deep joys or even hates." Lilea whispered 24 sadly. Tatslina turned round. How strange that would be. But it would save you from getting hurt, that's what she would try and do, never get hurt again. She felt an arm go round her, "Darling, don't, don't, you don't know what it's like, please promise me you won't, please." There was begging in the voice, but Tatslina tried her best to block it out, She shook her head, "No this is the only way that's safe. I'm sorry but no." She said it firmly, and the goddess seemed to melt. "I am sorry too, yes, I am sorry." the goddess murmured, and the voice seemed to seep into her brain, though she tried to keep it out. But on they went, and below were white-topped mountains, and they went through a cloud, wet and foggy. She stood at the front, and did not even whinse at the wetness. She held her hands clenched behind her, her nails biting into her palms. And she decided, never ever would she let herself love anything, not with a big burning love. Below them now were great fields of rolling green, with forests of pines, and she felt like throwing herself out and dancing in the wind. But no, that was feeling, she was supposed to be devoid of those, she shook her head, no. She heard the goddess sigh, and one of the gods comfort her, "Don't worry, she'll come round, she couldn't stand it for too long, Don't worry, she'll come round." "Will she?" Tatslina blocked it out and concentrated on not feeling the joy of it run through her, the height, the speed, the glory. She heard the gods talking "That wouldn't be fair." "Only for now. "But it wouldn't be right.' "Please, she won't remember anyway, and it will give her a little joy to remember in her dreams, please." She felt a glow of warmth spread over her, and she tried again to fight it but she couldn't. Slowly it swallowed her and she let go. It could do what it liked with her, she loved it. She jumped out, or rather floated out, and stayed, lighter than air, swimming in the air as if it were water, she chased leaves and laughed, spinning round and round, laughing laughing, She 25 saw the gods come closer in their chariot. Smiling sadly and sweetly, she flung her arms round Lilea's neck and kissed her cheek, "Thank you, thank you, you were right, but I am right here is different, but I will try to be strong enough to let myself love. I will try," she whispered. The goddess smiled, "Thank you, goodbye." Suddenly everything was black. Tatslina was swirling round in dry water, softly being flung, soft purples and blues swirled and swayed, and then she was on the sand, lying on its burning heat, her arms flung out. "Tatslina, Tatslina, are you alright, please, oh please, are you?" Saleen was down on her knees beside her, wiping her forehead. Tatslina slowly opened her eyes and Saleen helped her sit up. "Oh Tatslina, I was so worried, and then you suddenly appeared here in this sort of light, - Oh you are alright aren't you?" Tatslina nodded, "Yes I am, but what happened? Why am I here? I was just going down these stairs and after that, I forget everything. I wonder why, how?" she murmured. Saleen looked worried but only shook her head. "Never mind that, it doesn't matter. You're alright now, and that's all that matters. Come on, Borio's still waiting with the camels. Twiller led me here. Your cats are back there too. They told me to tell you not to try to remember. Come on." Saleen helped her up and to the camels, and they went on. It was the day after when they reached Lana, and it looked so much like what Billowa had been like, Tatslina nearly cried, but she remembered, she was not supposed to feel anything, nothing. They went on. And it was then that Borio told her that she was to become a priestess. He was taking her to a temple on the mountains, and she was to become a silent, unsmiling, unlaughing priestess. Noooooooo. 26 CHAPTER 3 - TO THE SEA It took two days to reach the place of the priestesses, and a long climb up the mountain it was nestled in, just above the village of Tiera. Tatslina took one last look at Tiera before clenching her fists and going in, why, oh why did it look so like a prison? It was a big house of wood with passages going everywhere, and huge fires in all the rooms. Borio was too go back to Tlearet in five days, and Tatslina and Saleen were to stay in the House of the Priestesses forever. It seemed strange to look round at the place were she was to stay, mabey not forever, but at least until she was eighteen, as it seemed, was her duty. Tatslina was very silent and went to bed early that night. The next evening was when Saleen and Borio broke the news that they were getting married. Saleen was going back to Tlearet to live. So Tatslina was to be left alone, was nothing ever to stay the same. She had thought that Saleen at least would stay with her always. Tatslina put on her biggest smile and congratulated the two of them, how wonderful it was, how happy for them she was, no Saleen wasn't to worry about her, she'd be fine . But she spent all that night staring at the fire in stony silence, watching the flames flicker and dance in their warm glowing colours. Mistlet and Twiller stayed up with her just silently, without saying a word, sitting on her shoulder. Just before dawn, one lonely tear trickled down her face and slowly she got up and walked away, just as the fire burned down, leaving nothing but the smouldering embers. It was a quiet wedding and no one was there but Tatslina and the priestesses. No doubt they'd have a big wedding feast when they got back to Tlearet, Tatslina thought bitterly as she laughed with them as they left, taking with them a box filled with gold coins, Tatslina's wedding gift to them. She watched them until they were just little coloured dots before she went inside to help in the hospital. 27 Mabey this was were she belonged, mabey . It was three weeks later that Tatslina was awakened in the middle of the night by a worried Priestess. "Hurry, hurry, you have to go. We did not tell you but last week the Lortans conquered us. Now there is a group of them coming up the mountain, oh hurry hurry. The high mother looked in her bowl and it is for you they have come. We are packing your donkey just now, then the high mother will show you a way through the mountains to avoid them." The priestess helped Tatslina quickly change and put on the cloak her mother had given her before she left. Then she followed the priestess through the passages to the room of the high mother. The room was dark, and smelt of incense, with a big altar at one end, in front of which a dark witch-like figure was kneeling, but then it stood up. It was the high mother. She nodded and beckoned silently. They went through a tunnel first, crawling. It was damp and with little driplets of water running down the walls, and the mud seemed to be clawing at Tatslina. It clung at her hair, and touched her face with its ghastly coldness. She shivered violently, soon, very soon, her back would break, she was sure of it. But just when she could go no further, she could see a sort of light, a dull sort of blue glow, and then there was a star twinkling ,and another, another, another, and they were out of the tunnel. Below them it seemed like the whole mountain was on fire. There was screaming, torches, crying running figures, still ones, their heads hung, backs bent. And everything was bathed in a glow of light from the burning cottages. They turned away and started scurrying quickly up the mountain. One two, one two, oh my back, one two, one two, I can't go on, I can't, one two, one two, I must go on, I must. On and on, half crawling, half slithering. In front of them the high mother had seemed to turn into a snake, and Twiller and Mistlet walked easily, so only Tatslina had to keep down, one two one two, I can't I can't, one two, one two, I must, I must. Then they were 28 over the first peak, and running down the mountain, the night air as cold as ice. As she ran stumbling, she saw a village below, and in front of it, she gasped, a shimmering mass, the sea, it must be the sea! She tried to run faster, but slipped, instead she sumersaulted the rest of the way down. Tatslina lay in a heap at the bottom of the mountain, bruised and sore. Above her Twiller and Mistlet delicately picked their way down, and above them was a figure in black, waving. Tatslina waved back, and watched as the high mother slowly disappeared, then huddled into a small ball under a rock, hugging her cloak to her till morning. In the morning she woke to find a ray of sun in her eyes, and her back killing, but, but, that smell, and that gentle whishing noise - she knew it didn't she? "Twiller , Mistlet , do you hear that sound, do you, do you? It sounds like the sea, oh the sea." Once again she was standing on her balcony looking out at the shimmering sea, the goddess Twilea was shining down and her room was empty but for Saleen behind her, then there was a hand on her shoulder. . "Mmm , yes , I can smell it, gorgeous delicous fish." Twiller delicately licked his mouth and Tatslina laughed at the difference in ideas, even if it was a little sad, and they went into the city and joined the crowding mob. They booked a room in a small inn and went to bed straight away, to get up early the next morning . They did get up early , far too early, four oclock. The inn was next to a market and the marketers were shouting to one another "Nice pig you've got " "Pass that hay will you" "Pig, pig, son of a pig, why a fool would know better than to... pig pig!" Then there were the chickens, indignant and squawking from being thrown round, dogs were barking too, and although 29 Tatslina turned over and had a valiant try at sleeping through it, in the end she had to admit defeat, so she got up, dressed, put the sleeping Twiller and Mistlet in her waist pouch, and slinging her bag over her shoulder, left the inn, putting the innkeeper's money on the counter with a note. The air smelt fresh and like the sea and you could hear the waves crashing on the shore . Tatslina went towards the sound, only stopping to buy food at the market and to fill the water bags up at the town well, before they left the town to find the the sea. The sea! wind blowing in her face and pulling back her hair, the little waves lapping on the sand, the sun just rising over the sea and leaving a shadowy ray on the water, sparkling and glowing, oh to be alive, Tatslina flung her head back in joy, her eyes sparkling. Twiller and Mistlet looked out purring before scrambling their way up the front of Tatslina's dress, only to be taken off and put on Darlet the donkey's head, while Tatslina took off her sandals and paddled in the sea, then played wavy, Wavy, wavy you can't catch me , Wavy, wavy you can't catch me ! Then she'd jump back as the waves nearly caught her. Slowly she walked away, and continued traveling . It was daylight now and more people were coming down to the beach all the time, swimming and running, or just lying in the sun, and shrieks of laughter were everywhere. By lunchtime Tatslina was looking longingly at the sea, how lovely it would be. She didn't have any swimming suit, though she did remember packing it at the bottom of one of the trunks . But it would be far too small to wear now, since it was magicked so small. If she brought some material from somewhere ... Her prayers were answered. A girl about her age came up. "Er hello. Mother said you looked a bit lonesome, and did you want to stop with us for awhile, I'd really like you to," the girl asked shyly. Tatslina accepted gratefully. 30 "Come on, just leave your donkey here, I'll share my board with you." The girl pointed to a smooth wood plank , "If you lie on that and a wave comes it will take you right in, oh and my name's Arenara, Renary for short. Come on, one of my brothers will lend you a top to go in, I've got seven of them !" Renary grimaced and wrinkled her nose and Tatslina laughed. She pulled on the far too big top ( it went down to her knees ) and took off her dress from underneath before tying the sides together at the bottom and racing Renary in . All seven of Renary's brothers were in the sea already, from the youngest who was four to the oldest who was nineteen, all shouting and yelling. Tatslina made a running dive in and drew even with Renary, and joined a water fight three of the brothers were having. Water splashed everywhere and she floated on her back and kicked her legs to get a bigger splash. It worked for a while, until they noticed she wasn't behind the splash and swam under and ducked her. Spluttering she swam up, and borrowing Renary's board caught a wave in, yelling with glee as it sped her in. "Hey, race you," she called to Renary, who was using one of her brother's boards as he looked after the youngest one. "You're on, come on, this one coming." Renary pointed to a wave just after the next one, and they got on their boards and waited, then just as they were on top of it and it was about to break, Tatslina gave a giant push and again came racing i , side by side with Renary. It would have been a draw if Renary hadn't given a push to set Tatslina off course and Tatslina hadn't given a push to set Renary off course so instead they both, still laughing, fell off. With no hard feelings they ran through the shallow waters to catch the next wave. They spent the whole afternoon swimming, having races and playing games, then in the evening Tatslina joined Renary and her family for tea. They too it seemed were travelling - to Ria, a country a week more walk away, to where their Aunt and Uncle lived. Tatslina thought she would go with them, then continue. 31 It was fun talking round the fireside. The baby Titi snuggled up to her and slowly dropped asleep, his chubby face covered in sauce, and the everyone else talked, the light from the fire falling in shadows on their faces and the smoke gently twirling, sheltered from the wind on the beach by the trees. Renary's mother was plump and laughed a lot, welcoming Tatslina with a hug. The father was silent but with a slight smile on his face which never seemed to leave, though it seemed almost bitter at times . Renary, when she discovered that Tatslina knew all about what had happened in the court, asked endless questions and everyone else listened quietly too. "Did the Countess of Rista really tell the Queen of Rina that she thought the queen looked like a pig ?" Tatslina gasped. How did they know? The countess of Rista had been banned from the court because of it, but everyone had kept very silent about it. "Yes she did , but who told you ?" Renary burst into peals of laughter. "My, you are silly. The servants tell the shopkeepers who tell the people. Of course sometimes it couldn't possibly be true, but mostly it is." Now this was too good to waste. "Oh, did you hear anything about that princess, the spoilt one, called, what's her name, Tatslina, of Cilia?" It was strange, but as soon as she said her name, every one burst into sad smiles, almost possessively, as they'd smile if someone asked them about a favourite puppy who had just died - sweetly but sadly. "Yes, we heard in Tyden that all the royal family of Cilia died in the massacre." Massacre, massacre, the word spun round in her head, everything was starting to go black all the screaming, the noise, the wild crying, her mother her father, she gripped tighter at Titi and struggled to stay conscious. Renary, not noticing, went on. "Some say she escaped, but how, in time, but when all the enemies stormed the castle, the servants who escaped said that all the crown jewels and such were gone, and no one saw the princess. " All the servants who escaped, didn't some ? 32 "But oh, everyone was always talking about her, do you know, it's strange that you should mention her, but some gypsies once said we would meet her. But they must have been lying , but it's strange, because gypsies never lie. Mabey we'll see her ghos , whoooooo whooo !" Renary acted, laughing. "But the princess, just about every day you hear a new story about her. When the prince Tarlon came over, everyone but everyone was saying that he was in love with her or she was in love with him, or they were both in love, and " (Here Renary nudged Dinta her brother next to her who blushed, knowing what was coming next, and concentrated hard on eating ) he locked himself in his room for days , and I mean days !" Tatslina giggled but remembering what Renary had said about Tarlon burst out "I- she-he did not" then wished she hadn't said it. Their mother was looking at her with the funniest look in her eyes, but Renary who seemed to be the pet of the family still talked on- "Oooooh, jealous of the princess!" Tatslina did the obvious thing. She giggled and blushed. Jealous of herself ! But she was in a way, jealous of what she had been and had. "But to get on to the stories about her, well, did you hear the one about the disguises, and the time she rode on the lion, and her dancing, one of the dancing girls said that the Duke of Walta said she was the best he'd seen." This was getting embarrasing. She was lucky it was so dark or her blushing would give her away , but still it was so funny she was about to giggle, she knew it, but just as she was about to, she heard the words again "It was awful about the massacre." The massacre, the massacre. "The King and Queen spoke from the balcony just before the enemy entered. They told everyone that better times would come, and soon someone would come to save them, to have hope and courage and never despair. People said you could hear it all over the city. We saw it in a gypsy's crystal ball. Then they killed themselves." Killed themselves killed themselves killed themselves, it whirled round and round, gathering strength, until it was like a whirlwind, black and roaring, she was choking, dying drowning, she was going to be sick no no no no no, it couldn't be , she knew now she had always really believed that they had escaped but now it was in 33 words it spun her round and round and round, and she sank into nothingness, limp and unconscious. Tatslina was in a tent when she awoke, and the sun was coming through the open door as she turned over, wondering were she was. She saw Renary and her mother beside her quietly, with their hands folded in their laps. "Oh by Twilea, you're alright," cried Renary. Her mother just smiled serenely. "That will do, Renary , would you go outside for awhile. I want to talk with your friend." Renary left. "Princess ?" Renary's mother asked softly, "How did you get here? Everyone thought you were dead." Tatslina shuddered and sat up. "I came with my servant Saleen, but she left me at the mountains to get married. I was to be a Priestess there but that country too was conquered, and I had to run from there too." Renary's mother nodded and put her arm round Tatslina's shoulder. "But how did you get out of the city? It was guarded and everyone who escaped was tracked down by magic and followed." This was new to Tatslina. "But how? I don't think I'm being followed. How could they track everyone?" she asked, puzzled . "They put an invisible shield round the City and anyone who stepped outside it was marked, though the priestesses would have gotten rid of it for you. Oh and what are we to call you your majesty?" questioned the mother. "Oh no no, just call me - ummm, Atlina, no one would really guess from that would they?" Renary's mother shook her head, smiling, and giving Tatslina a drink, left her in peace. Tatslina quickly slipped into one of the boys' old top and pants, then she stepped outside into the sun to join the others on the beach. It was early in the morning and no one but the family was on the beach. Renary ran up to Tatslina as soon as she saw her, 34 and dragged her off to the sand dunes to talk. The early morning wind was gentle and the sun shone down in gentle rays and the seagulls flew overhead, already looking round for breakfast. Renary plonked herself down on the sand and pulled Tatslina down too. "So you're `the' princess, the one evereyone's been talking about. I'm sorry about last night. I didn't know. Mother only found out when she saw the necklaces, though I think she half guessed as soon as she saw you." Tatslina said nothing, and just shifted the sand through her hands, so Renary went on "Poor Dinta, it'll be awfully embarrasing for him." Tatslina only smiled. If only she hadn't made such a fool of herself. If only she had pretended she didn't know anything about it. She didn't want to think about what Renary had said about her parents. Always in the back of her mind she imagined them meeting again, mabey not for years, but eventually. She didn't want to think about it. The sand felt nice running between her fingers as she idly looked out to sea. "Say something, will you. This is getting on my nerves, princess, please," pleaded Renary. "Call me Atlina, and forget I was a princess, forget it didn't " she said harshly, her mouth parting, then suddenly burst out, "Oh , please forget, please, otherwise someone will find out and they'll come after me again." There was no need to say who `they' were; Renary had a very full imagination. They spent that day walking along the beach. Twiller and Mistlet came out of the bags were they had been hiding until they knew it was safe to come out. Tatslina walked along in silence for a while, leading Darlet, but in the end she let Renary's mother lead Darlet, and ran along to play tiggy with Renary and her brothers. And so they traveled on for the week. In the day they would walk along, playing tiggy and talking, and in the evening they would swim and surf, and after choosing a spot they would set up the tents and sleep for the night, to continue walking in the morning after a quick swim, they soon came to Ria and went to the Aunty's house, taking Tatslina along. 35 Aunty was pleased to see them, and didn't even seem to notice that there was an extra girl. Tatslina quietly fitted in with the pattern of the house. But one night, a week after she had arrived, she slipped out of the house and down to the beach. The sea shimmered in the dark and beams reflected on the water. The night was cool and calm and magic. It seemed full of it. A soft singing was comeing from the sea, so soft you could barely hear it, and you saw whisps of things from the corner of your eye that vanished as soon as you turned round, so it seemed to fit in when out of the sea came a lady, in a floating gown of pale blues and greens, her hair caught up in pearls, who said eight words and faded, leaving only a shell were she had been You are destined to go over the sea. The next morning Tatslina packed all her things and went to the docks; the whole family came with her, and she bought a passage over on the only ship going. It was a sturdy ship, and large. The only bad thing about it was that Darlet had to go in the hold, but Twiller told Tatslina that Darlet said she didn't really mind, because the hay was nice and soft and there was a nice mule to talk to a little further up in the hold. So Tatslina went with Twiller and Mistlet up to the deck where Renary and her family were waiting to say goodbye. The ship had not yet left port and they were still tied to the busy dock, with the smell of rotting fish drifting round. It was drizzling too and the sky was a forbidding grey, everything was grey , the sea was a greeny grey, the sand was a dull browny grey, and it all looked like tears put into scenery. It was awful saying goodbye to Renary . Renary had been such a friend, and her mother. She gave Renary a bracelet and her mother an anklet, and everyone else a gold piece, of which she seemed to have an unlimited supply, and just as they were about to leave and the boat was ready to go, Dinta came running up the gangplank from the market, carrying a small cane bird cage with a tiny white dove in it. "We thought this would be what you liked best, goodbye, Atlina," he gasped. 36 Then after Tatslina had hugged them all and made the sticky little Titi promise he wouldn't forget her, the family walked down the gangplank and waved from the dock until the boat was far away . 37 CHAPTER 4 - LYNETTE Tatslina too, waved from the deck, as she clutched to the rails so she wasn't thrown to the other side of the ship, and Twiller and Mistlet waved their paws about. But when finally the family were no more than little blobs on the pier she started to look around. There were round about twenty passengers on the ship, but the person she noticed first was a man in black. He was tall, with blond hair and green eyes that darted everywere, and by his side hung a sword, not a cutlass as Tatslina was used to, but a thin one like Tarlon and his companions wore, and this person obviously came from the northern lands of the pale people, where they were going now. Tatslina herself was very pale for a Cilian, so pale that she just looked like a northern person who had been in the sun too long. Her mother had been a northern person - in fact her mother was said to have been the most beautiful person in the northern lands, with long curling black hair and green eyes. But the sword was what interested Tatslina. She must learn, she couldn't just keep on using the dancing movements to defeat her enemies. She must learn properly. She remembered that person. There were also two chubby old merchants who were going round trying to sell their wares, as well as seven families and a magician with three of his followers, and she had seen numerous other people clutch their stomachs when the boat started and head for the cabins. But the captain's servant came down then and showed her to her cabin. The cabin seemed small and dark. In one corner was a bunk and in the other was a small table and chest of drawers. There was a small round window, with glass two inches thick and iron lattice. Tatslina took one look at it, sighed and put her blankets on the bed. If she had to live in such a gloomy hole for a month then she had to live in a gloomy hole for a month, but there must be something she could do. She reached into her bag and drew out ten scarves that had appeared from nowhere, and she pinned 38 them up on the wooden walls, but in some strange way it reminded her of her palace, the night she left it, the gloom, the colour, even the rocking of the boat reminded her of the panic that had seemed to rock the palace to its very foundations. She bit her lip,trying to shake it off, but her face went white and drawn in the effort. Then leaving her bags in a corner and changing into one of her old dresses, a black one with saffires embroidered round the bottom, she flung on her mothers cloak, then she she went through to the dining room where everyone was talking. Slowly she walked over to where the knight was standing, slowly drinking wine from a silver goblet. "Greetings to you, Sir Knight." She curtsied slowly as she had been taught, and rose to find the knight staring at her in amusement. "And the same to you, my lady." The knight raised one eyebrow questioningly. "Now, I know you didn't come here to chat with me. To tell you the truth you look like death and as though you'd never laughed in your life. So what is it you want?" "I want to learn to fight. I must learn to fight, I will learn to fight, and I do laugh," she blazed. "Oh so the pretty lady wants to learn to fight too. Such an accomplished lady, next you'll want sorcery ?" He still looked amused, and she blushed. She HAD been going to ask the magician if he would teach her, but she bit her tongue and continued, "But will you teach me how to fight ?" In the background there was the noise of laughter and music, and people danced in the orange light from the light of the lanterns, and the boat rocked, as though it was trying to throw her across the room like a pancake. It tilted up suddenly, and she nearly fell, but caught hold of a table just in time, while her stomach did a somersault. She felt sure she had at best turned a light green. "Well I might think about it. Meet me tomorrow on the deck at seven and I will tell you my decision. If the magician asks I am in my room." With a fling of his cape he left the room, and Tatslina too left the room to go on deck . 39 It was dark on the deck and drizzzling, but at least the fresh air seemed to settle her whirling stomach. Slowly she tottered her way up to where the captain was steering the ship from the bridge, and silently Tatslina went up to it. "Hello," she said as she sat herself down by the rail. "Er hello," the captain looked round. "Oh, come to keep me company have ye ?" "Yes , where is the ship going ?" The captain looked round VERY quickly, "What, ye dun know where we're goin? Surely ye asked someone afore we left ?" The red-faced captain was amazed. "No I never. Someone told me that my place was across the sea, so I caught a boat to cross the sea." The captain shook his head in bewildermen these foreigners! - but answered all the same, "We're goin to Wyldam." Tatslina smiled. "Thankyou, I thought it might be wisest to know where I'm going. What's it like?" "Oh, it's a luvely city. Me sister and brother-in-law live there, an I was brought up there meself. Oh, aye it's a luvely place, one o the most luvely places in the world." Tatslina thanked him and left the still puzzled captain to his steering, while she went down to her cabin. Inside her cabin her new dove was sleeping, as were Twiller and Mistlet. She changed into her nightie and very silently she went over to the small window, and looked out. She could see only the vaguest shadow of land, and it seemed so final, so as if everything was over, and it seemed it was in a way - no country , no parents no home. She tried not to think about it but it kept coming back, her parents hugging her and laughing, iceskating with them, swimming, it all seemed to come back. Her beautiful mother gone - she shouldn't think of them she shouldn't, but she couldn't help it. Just as she was about to start sobbing and the tears were collecting faster, she felt Mistlet on her shoulder. 40 The Two Friends 41 "It's time to look in the other box, Tatslina. Come now, stop crying, the other box in the bag," Mistlet whispered softly. Tatslina went to get the bo , and sitting down on her bed she opened it. Inside was a chubby fluffy white teddy bear that had faded to a creamy colour, and below that was a necklace. It was the necklace that first took Tatslina's attention and she lit the lamp so she could see it better. It was a very simple, thin gold chain, with three pearls on it, one large and two small, but on the pearls were people, that looked so real that it was almost as though they were inside the pearls. On one small pearl was her mother, on the other her father, and on the middle one was her mother and her father, with her in the centre when she was six. Oh to see them again. She knew they were on the portraits in one of the chests, but she had tried to open the other chests and it was impossible. And there they all were looking so happy, and so alive. But even though she was so sad it was such a comfort to have the necklace there again, because she had had it before. When she was seven her father had it made, when they all went over to visit Tarlon and his family, but after that they had had it put in the treasury . Tatslina went back to the box. There must be a letter, just a tiny note, there was My darling Tatslina, I don't know what to write so I won't write much, look after my little teddy, her names Lolotte, Lotty for short. My mother had her as a child , and so did I, please look after her for me . I hope you're happy , and never despair and NEVER stop laughing , please, don't become bitter and cold, one of my friends did once and . . . . just don't for my sake, and your fathers, think of us sometimes, We love you. Mother. P.S If you ever really really need anything call on the godess Twilea, she will help you. and do love Lotty for me, goodbye little one. There seemed to be tears on the page in the dim light, and Tatslina will never find out how she was able to read it in the dark but the letter seemed to give off its own light. Tatslina 42 reached out a hand and hugged Lolotte, and still hugging her she slipped under the blankets and fell asleep. The next morning, promptly at seven, Tatslina was waiting on the deck. There was a blustering wind sweeping round and her hair was in one big mess, but still she waited. It was about the time when her fingers were going blue that the knight finally came out. "Oh, so you're here. I was wondering if you would be or if it was just a trick to get me to talk to you." He smiled arrogantly and Tatslina fought with the desire to give him a big slap. She won, just, and the knight smiled, pleased. "Very good, if you had given me that slap, I wouldn't have taught you if you had. You know, you've got to be able to have control to be a great swordsman. Come on, I'll show you the moves of first drill." After that, every morning Tatslina learnt new moves with the knight and every afternoon she practiced them, and in the evening she talked to the captain, bringing Twiller and Mistlet with her, and there she told the captain about her travels and he told her about Celea and his Sister, and also his wife and daughter who lived in Ria. Sometimes the knight came up and told of his adventures, and sometimes the magicians came up, and sometimes some of the families came up, and sometimes everyone came up, and the captain hardly knew what was happening, used as he was to steering alone, just himself in the dark. "I don't know why and I don't know how, but in one week you've changed the whole pattern of the ship. Why, in the morning all the children copy you as you copy the knight and every one else watches the children, who watch you, who watch the knight, and every afternoon, you talk to the children as you practice, and everyone either walks through that passage-way again and again on the feeblest excuses, to eavesdrop or peep through the key hole, or talk about who you could be in the dining room, and every evening nearly everyone comes up here simply because you're here. I don't 43 understand." The captain was still bewildered as he stared at Tatslina, as she laughed and raced around. And the knight was nearly just as bewildered. "I could have sworn that girl never laughed, and look at her - what on earth !" But why she laughed, even with its touch of sadness, was Tatslina's secret . "Come on, let's dance." She dragged the elderly magician into the middle of the deck and tried to make him dance, which he did. "But really, really, I'm sure there's something in one of the books that forbids dancing. I'm positive." Tatslina simply smiled, and letting go off one of the magician's hands she twirled round, while the professor tugged at his beard and continued muttering, "I am sure, simply sure, it forbids it somewhere. Why it must, such frivolous behavior really should be - umm. Why, Ran, don't you think there's a book in the rules that says dancing is forbidden?" He turned on his assistant who had appeared behind his master. "I'm not sure, but I sure hope there isn't." Tatslina spun to Ran, and the master, still tugging his beard, tottered off to his bedroom. "Hey, what's your name?" "Umm, Atlina," she murmured, and Ran blinked, but said only one awful sentence. "Nice name. Do you know that I specialise in being able to tell lies? It's a marvellous course. I've been learning since I was twelve, six years ago. I must tell you about it." Tatslina blushed and replied, "Yes it must be. I've heard a bit about the course from one of my friends. They did a minicourse on it. It did seem interesting." She twirled off to someone else, and Ran stared and smiled. Really, she covered up quite well; she might be `the' one. He strolled over to the stern of the deck and stared out at the sky . Tatslina worried all night about it. "I specialise in being able to tell lies ." What could he mean? Why did he tell her that 44 he knew right out ? What would he do , was he warning her, or what? She threw herself into the dancing with extra energy and no one saw through the smile to the worry in her eyes, except of course that annoying knight. "You're worried about something, aren't you ?" Tatslina scowled, business." forgetting her smile, "None of your "Oh yes it is. It's not good for your training to be tense." "I said," she smiled a harsh too sweet smile, "That it was none of your business, remember that." She cursed him silently and went on dancing, and to tell the truth he was the best dancer there, and after he started up a nice easy conversation about the weather she almost forgave him, and even nearly promised not to call him a swine next time he gave her extra practise. The days went on and on and on. It was when Tatslina realized that it was only a week till they got across the sea that she started to think about what to do next. It was during a big storm, and she was sitting at her desk staring at her mother and father in the pearls by the light of the lamp. The boat was tossing and turning and outside the sea was a dark dark bluey green and giant waves everywere. Twiller and Mistlet were lying on the desk sleeping, and she whispered into the stone, "Mother, Father, what do I do now? It's a new country, and I checked, the money's nearly all run out and I can't open the chests. What can I do? Tell me please, should I get work somewere, should I give myself to one of the gods? Someone tell me, please." There was no answer and she let it be. Sooner or later she'd know. Land! land! that was land, in three or so hours they'd reach land ! Tatslina had come up to practice early that morning and there it was, with the sun just rising behind it and sending 45 golden rays across the water towards them. Her new land, and it was her land. Cilia would always be somewhere in her heart and one day, one day soon she would save it, but this was HER land! Very quickly she rushed down to her cabin and repacked her bag, putting back all her scarfs and the clothes she had scattered everywhere. Then changing and leaving everything in a big pile by the door, she slipt up on deck. Now, what she'd always longed to do. She untied her sandals quickly and gave herself the once-over - nothing that would go see-through? nothing that was too heavy ? NO. She stood for a minute on the railing, feeling the wind and the sun and safely jumped in! It was cold, a lot colder than she was used to, but it was great, as she flung her head up out of the water, getting her hair out of her eyes. At the same time she heard another splash - the knight! He was swimming towards her, and everything he had on was so heavy, boy was he daft ! She floated on her back, her skirt clinging to her, and looked at him in amusement. "What on earth are you doing here?" He swallowed half a tonne of water and replied, "Well, I was rescuing you, but somehow you don't look as if you want rescuing," he gasped, held down by all his layers and layers of clothes. "I don't," Tatslina replied unsensitively. "Well of you don't want rescuing, don't jump out of ships," he snarled at her before sinking in a gargle of bubbles. Then he bobbed up, minus everything but his pants. "And why on earth did you jump off then? Do you know, I just lost one leather jacket, one pair of boots and a hat down there!" Tatslina laughed and swam under, then came up another five metres away. "Well, you needed to lose them any way. You would have been awfully hot by the end of training. Anyway I didn't ask you to come in and rescue me, did I !" She swam away again, diving deep under then swimming up again. The captain saw her from where he was steering and waved, 46 though raising an eyebrow as if to ask were on earth did she come from. The knight swam about too, and they had a water fight. "Probably the only fight I will ever win against you," she laughed. The knight smiled, he wasn't quite that sure who would win if they had a duel. It was an hour later when dripping they climbed the rope that Tatslina had tied from the railing, and they both quickly went and got changed . This was it. The ship was in the docks and Tatslina was with everyone else on board, on deck, and it was nearly just like before. She was leading Darlet, with the bag slung over her shoulder, Twiller and Mistlet in her pocket - if anyone saw them they'd get suspicous - and with her new bird Tata in its cage hanging to Darlet. She hugged a little girl called Landra good bye - one of the little ones who used to watch her practice - and shook what seemed like millions of people's hands. It was strange to think that she wouldn't see any of them again. They all seemed to come together in her mind as one big family. Sure all of them had their weird bits, but everyone else just made room for it and let it go at that. But she'd sure miss little Landra. Well here goes. She watched everyone go down the gangplank, saying goodbye to the Knight last of all, "Goodbye, Knight, thankyou for training me, and I'm sorry I called you a swine. I only half meant it." He grinned. "Well, three quarter meant it? Well goodbye, Misty, you did learn a little, and mabey, just mabey one day you'll graduate from a cub to a panther. Tho you'll always be a very wild cat" He laughed and handed her a silk sach of purple, with three cats embroidered in glittering colours, two tiny cats, and one big kitten with nails outstretched. She smiled, and hugged him, then watched him disappear into the maze of lanes and paths, before slowly starting herself. The captain caught up with her as she was going down, "Hey just a minute. I forgot to ask you where you're going next!" "Oh I don't know. I thought that I'd find an inn somewhere." 47 He nodded. "I thought so, but it just struck me that ye might like to try me sister's inn. I'm just goin there meself though I'm stayin with me mother this time." "Why thank you, that would be great. I was wondering where I could go!" She followed the captain down the gangplank and on to the new land. 48 CHAPTER 5 - LYNETT So this was the inn. It was a white building with black beams in lattice work on the front, and a painted sign saying Lotham Inn. "This is it, Atlina. Come on, Sis should be expecting me. Come on." Inside it was all deep brown and seemed to have the calm before the storm, smelling slightly of alchohol. Behind the bar was a plump rosy-cheeked woman cleaning the marble top. "Ohh my Tarry, I haveny seen you for ages. Ach I'm pleased to see you, and your wee friend here's right bonny. What's ye name, lass?" She stepped round from behind the counter and hugged her brother heartily. "Come lass, what's ye name lass, ye do have a tongue in ye head don't you?" Cosie smiled broadly. "Atlina thankyou. Your brother said that you might have a room for me." Tatslina smiled her most bewitching smile. "Why, I dun know, all the rooms have been booked oot. I do have a room in the attic, but that's it." Sympathetically, Cosie shook her head. "That would be fine, I'm sure it'll be great." When the captain left Cosie took Tatslina to the attic. It was small but clean and smelt of soap. It had a nice window too, over the street. "I was getting it ready for a new servant me husband an me decided we could do wi'. It's gettin more popular ye see , an te rooms are booked, and I also have a liddle dress shop roun the back. Bu' how do ye like te room?" "I think it's very nice. How much is it? "Mmm, let's see, seein you're a friend o me brother's I'll let you have it for- mm tree silver pieces a week. That alright ?" "Fine, but two little things-" Tatslina brought out Twiller and Mistlet from her pocket. "I hope you don't mind . Oh and your brother also put my donkey and dove in the stable." She smiled apologetically. Already she knew that she had the room. 49 "Why , well, I normally don't, I hope ye understand, but, ye seem a nice gil, so I suppose ye can, and they are cute liddle beggars, aren't they? Rather small though, aren't they?" Cosie said doubtfully. "Excuse me, madam, we are special cats, even if we are rather small." Cosie stepped back in amazement, "Oh Twilea, those cats talk!" "Yes we do, and you are sort of right. We are under Twilea's eye," Twiller said, stately. "You are a little cheeky aren't you!" Cosie grinned from ear to ear. Just the thing for getting customers to the inn they were. Talking cats ! "Well I must be going now. There's wood in te stable if ye want it." Cosie went down stairs, and Tatslina, after unpacking, went down too. It was nearly eight o'clock and the sun had set. More and more people were coming in. In one corner of the room a fiddler and flutist played and a big fire blazed, giving everything a rosy glow. Two or three couples were dancing. The ladies' dresses seemed familiar. Yes, she had it now. They were the style that people in Tarlon's country wore - thick and warm in velvets and wool. These must be in wool , because velvet would cost far too much for these people to pay except for a really grand occasion. But they still looked marvellous with all the bright colours, though some of the colour schemes were appalling. Tatslina felt very out of place in her light cotton dress, and she knew she looked it too. An old man, seeing her discomfort, beckoned her over. "Hi, I'm old Timmy, you'll ear about me soon though, and then they'll shake their eads and say `that ole Tim there, e, e'll come to a bad end e will' they'll say, you see if they don't. They never say it to me face mind, just to me back, but I dun mind. And what's your name, hen?" His sunken old eyes twinkled, and those around him perked up. There was always fun where old Tim was, even if he was a bit, well , not quite, well.... right, not that he was ...... 50 "Atlina." "Mmmm, one of them foreign names is it? Though then ye do look foreign, ye do an all. Ow long you stayin this side te sea?" "I don't know. Mabey two months, mabey two years, mabey ten years, but I'll probably leave here next week and just keep travelling. She liked the old man. There was spirit in his eyes, and a will for fun. "Ah, no ye won't, te old place grows on ye, don't it lads!" He looked round at his friends who nodded solemnly in agreement. "But I do be thinkin ye ought to change ye name. Not that I don't like ye name, I do, but all te same, a new country, I think a new name could be thrown into te bargain do ye not ?" This was getting better all the time , she did want a new name. Tatslina sounded, well, a bit childish. It had suited her, but now she wanted a new name. "Sure, what do you suggest ?" Timmy stared thoughtfully up at the roof beams. "Well, I alays liked te name Lynett, and I wanted te call me daughter that, but me ole girl said no an it twas a name for witches an gypsies. But I alays liked it meself." "Why I think it's a lovely name, and just right!" She leant over the table and kissed the old man who grinned round at his friends. "See I still havenny lost me charm, an me over eighty. Though all te same," he looked over at Tatslina-now-Lynne, "I'm sure ye'll find me grandson Luckon far more fun than an ol beggar like me." He gave an earpiercing whistle, and from nowhere appeared the grandson, sturdy and pink-cheeked as Cosie and as full of fun as old Timmy. Old Timmy nodded at Lynne (Tatslina) and Luckon, seeing immediately what he had to do, swept a bow. "A dance, me lady?" Lynne nodded demurely and they swept up on to the dance floor. Luckon was a reasonable dancer, apart from the small fact that he always stood on her toes, and it was for the sake of her toes that she finally went to bed, bruises bruises and more bruises ! Instead of staying on she just went upstairs to put something on the them, and to tell Twiller and Mistlet how it went. "Well, there was a dear old man called Timmy, and he 51 was very nice , and he had a grandson called Luckon, who is the worst person have ever come across in my whole entire life for stepping on feet, and there were some very nice musicians and....." Twiller and Mistlet glared at her angrily. "Well, I still think that there was no reason at all that we couldn't come, and I think you're very mean not to let us come down, especially since you wouldn't let us go out of your cabin all the time we were on the ship," Mistlet snapped. "I know, I know, but I had to see if it was safe enough. I promise you, you can come down tommorow. Come on, I'm going to sleep." She finished undoing her dress and pulled her nightie over her head, and turning off the light snuggled down into the doona. "Oh and by the way, I've changed my name to Lynnett, Lynney for short. Night night." "Nice name. Goodnight," called back Twiller from the end of the bed.Mistlet was already sleeping. The next morning she woke early, and careful not to wake Twiller and Mistlet, who were still asleep, she walked over to the window and pulled it open, and took a big breath of morning air, of fires, and fresh bread, goats and geese, leaves and laughter. A girl her age carrying a basket of eggs looked up and grinned at her. She smiled back, waving. And suddenly her fingers ached to do something, sew or cook, clean or scrub. She laughed softly, then got changed into her oldest dress, a slightly too small navy velvet one, and slipped downstairs. She peeped into the pub room, and saw Cosie already sweeping the floor, singing under her breath. She went further down, to a small brown door, and swung it open. Inside a girl was singing, and flour was flying everywhere. "And I was dreee-aming The seee-aaa with put the cinnamon." That I was ovv-eeer Where on earth did I 52 Lynnett burst out laughing, and a girl in red appeared from behind a stack of barrels, her face and arms splattered with flour, a dark stain down her apron, her hat on crookedly and her sleeves rolled up. She grinned and her cheeks burst into dimples. "Oh Hello! Who are ye, I havenny seen ye before, have I?" Lynnett sat down on one of the barrels and shook her head, swinging her legs . "Lynnet. Who are you?" "Gods luv ye miss, I'm t'kitchen maid o course. Ere, have a taste of this, think it's okay? I wasny sure meself." The green eyes seemed to never stop moving, and neither did her hands, and every time her hands moved, more flour would spill every where. Lynnett burst into laughter, and the kitchen maid joined in. Half an hour later when Cosie walked into the kitchen to see how everything was going, she was amazed to see two figures kneading and cooking, both equally floury and singing merrily. In the afternoon Lynett started to explore, and was delighted when she found a room filled with different coloured and textured materials. She ran her hands along a roe velvet, and brushed another piece over her cheek, remembering back to the time when she dressed in great folds of these materials every day, not even noticing their softness and the way the light shimmered on them. The door burst open and a girl who looked like the kitchen maid only older burst in. She had the same flaming orange hair and green eyes, but her eyes were gentler, and her hair down instead of in a bun. "Oh hell to ye. Ye must be te new boarder Cosie was telling me about. Well, I'm pleased to meet ye," she introduced herself formally. Then suddenly her eyes started to shine and she did what on any one younger would have been called a skip hop, "But oh, I'm so happ. I'm getting married a month from now, an I'm here te choose te material. Och, I'm that excited I could jump the moon!" 53 Lynnett giggled in sympathy. "Oh how delightful! Could I help you choose the materials? I just adore weddings!" In the end they picked out a blue and pink shot velvet over white silk with a coat of anglais embroiderie, hung with multicoloured ribbons and flowers,and before the girl had left they'd sworn eternal friendship and Lynnet had begged to make the dress. It seemed that she would indeed be staying for more than two weeks. At this rate she'd be lucky to get away before she was twenty. That evening Cosie offered her a permanent job, and she accepted. She had never even imagined she could be so happy again. 54 CHAPTER 6 - THE INN All her spare time Lynettt spent practising her magic or sewing Marie's wedding dress, all the while thinking if she'd ever need a wedding dress herself. Every time she decided she would, she changed her mind, but the dress was coming along well, and she only needed to do the top dress of broderie anglais and then embroidery. Twiller was teaching her magic, and she was gaining knowledge rapidly. She could make fire now and cure almost any disease. The fire was nice to be able to make, she wasn't used to such cold. Over the other side of the sea it had nearly always been warm, but here there was always, or nearly always, a cold clip to the air, that made your nose and cheeks red, and gave you a nice cosy sense of satisfaction, if you were warm inside cosy wool clothes and cloaks or beside fires in rugs. Lynne looked different from Tatslina though they were the same person, because Lynne's skin was far paler from the cold and her cheeks red. Her eyes also seemed older and had less brown in them, they were more a misty, greyey greeny blue. Her hands too were rougher from doing dishes and cleaning floors, and she had a different personality, more accepting and determined, but happier and far stronger. Her voice too had a slight lilt. But now she was practising fire magic very carefully. She skimmed the top of the magic around her and rolled it out, her fingers chanting the words that would make it from magic to fire. She threw it across the room into the grate in the corner of the room, and continued sewing, wincing slightly as she pricked her finger. She hated sewing sometimes, like now, a lovely autumn evening with the bright red and yellow leaves blowing in the wind. She wanted to run, to fly! Down below in the street people called out their wares, and chatted. She could see Timmy's niece and the gatekeeper's daughter and the flower seller, old Winda. She caught Winda's eye and Winda smiled and waved up at where she was sitting. 55 Finally the dress was finished. Putting it into a box, having one last gloating look at the small delicate stitches, she ran downstairs to help in the kitchen, and it was her favourite job, scrubbing the floor, yuk. "Hey Kinny, anything happening the night?" she smiled as she caught herself slipping into one of the village mannerisms. "Well ,we're ahearing a new fiddler from further north. They say he's really good. Ihope so, you can hear the music from down here, and I do like to have somethin to tap me toes to while I do me dishes and besides, me sweetheart's comin to visit me tonight!" Kinny grinned impishly with a touch of shyness. Lynne got out the scrubber and filled a bucket from the big barrel of water by the door, then threw in the coarse yellow soap, and started scrubbing, Ugh ugh ugh. "Awful job aint it. Do ye think I look okay ?" Kinny had quickly changed dresses and was wearing a bright green one to go with her bright red hair and green eyes. "You look great. Just a minute, if you wear your hat sort of tilted it looks better. See, like this." Laughing, she stuck it on her own head and stuck her head up in the air, pretending to be one of the court ladies. "Oh Lynney, ye do be one to make a person laugh. How is it ye had it ?" Upstairs the music had started and Kinny was right, the music did drift down, and when Kinny put her tam o'shanter on again, Lynett bowed down with a sweeping hand, taking off her mak- believe hat. "Lady, may I have this dance?" she said, trying to make her voice low like a man's. Kinny laughed, "The honour is mine, noble gentleman," and put out her hand. They started dancing, laughing and laughing. If the music drifted down from upstairs, so the laughter drifted up from downstairs. Old Timmy came down first, wondering where Lynettt was. His eyes twinkled more than ever when he saw what was happening, Lynney in one of Cosie's old dresses, 56 too big for her and patched everywhere, her arms covered in soap bubbles and her hair escaping in whisps from her plait, dancing with Kinny who was in her best dress. Old Timmy's friends followed him, then the other young people followed to see what was going on, till everyone was in the kitchen, laughing and drinking, including the musican, who shook his head once, smiled and went down too. By then Kinny's boyfriend was there, and he and Kinny were sitting on the apple barrels with the moon-glazed look in their eyes, talking, and Lynne was running round serving beer and whisky to everyone, twirling round as someone would catch her by the hand and give her a spin, and amazingly not spilling anything, though she had a couple of near goes. Cosie and Leon were serving too, trying to keep track of everything. They had come down in the end, taken one look and after sighing and rolling their eyes, they smiled and started helping. It was the morning after that Lynne felt really bad. They hadn't closed till 3 a.m. and after only three hours sleep Lynne needed to be up by six. Cor, she felt Twiller gently tap her on the cheek, and rolled over. It wasn't fair, no one on earth could expect her up, or could they. Rubbing her eyes crossly, she got out of bed and went to the window and leaned out. Now she was a little bit awake but not much, though the breath of fresh cold brisk autumn air did wonders and so did the freezing floor. Her feet jumped when they touched the cold bluestone. She was still in her petticoat, she hadn't bothered to change completely last night. Drawing the curtains she slowly changed, head like lead, eyes drooping. Why her, was what went through her mind. She tottered downstairs where Kinny was already singing in the kitchen. "Hits ye something awful don't it, wash yer face in the water, twill wake you up," Kinny told her sympathetically. It did. "How much of the punch did ye drink?" "Two glasses, I was thirsty." 57 Kinny nodded. "I thought so. Cosie spilt some wine in it, ye poor thing. It's worst the first time." Kinny spoke with all the knowledge of fourteen years to twelve. "Do you mean I was drunk?" Lynne asked, shocked. "Ah yes, but don't worry, dear, ye couldne tell. Come, I'll make you my grandmother's recipe for angovers." This was it her first hangover, Lynne thought, and her last. There was no way on earth she'd ever drink any of the awful stuff again. That was why the punch tasted so sour. She wouldn't have drunk it if there was anything else - but then she concentrated on clearing her head with magic, thank the gods it worked. But it was strange about last night. Why had everyone come down to the kitchen? Oh well, maybe they liked kitchens better. Anyway, she thought, Kinny and her sweetheart were engaged now, which reminded her she was finishing her own dress for the wedding, a light blue one of velvet, very simply made, actually the simplest design she could find, though it should look fine with some ribbons and flowers. She ran upstairs, her shoes echoing as she tapped up the stairs. It was nice she had so much freedom. Cosie and Leon treated her sort of like a daughter. She was lucky, alright. The wedding was held in the town square and everyone was there. Gypsies played, babies cried, children laughed. It was all happening. Later there was dancing in the street, and the celebrations went on till one the next morning. This time Lynettt knew what to do. Reaching inside, she drew new strength from within the earth to get over her tiredness. No hangover this time, though! She went over to see Marie and her new husband about a week after they were married and looked into their small farm cottage, cheerfully decorated. They seemed happy enough to burst. 58 The weather was getting colder all the time now, and one day Lynne woke up to find snow everywhere, lovely white clean snow, and it was still falling in gentle flakes outside the window. She went into Kinny's room to wake her, and found Kinny already getting dressed. "Snowfight?" Lynne questioned. "Snowfight!" Kinny agreed, grinning from ear to ear. In ten minutes they were out in the street with the children, with caps and scarfs and cloaks. They laughed as they got hit in the face or arm and had fun ducking and dodging. There was an impish four year old, with short curly brown hair and bright blue eyes with a small snub nose who was the best of all, though she was soon called in - "Cheridee, Cheridee, breakfast!" And soon after that Lynne and Kinny were called in. Even if it was the first day of snow, work must go on! Even though it was fun playing in the snow, it wasn't fun finding all the water frozen when you wanted to wash. or to feel the cold draughts in bed or as you swept the floor. It was an even worse time for the poorer people. Several children died, and always Lynne would feel like it was her own little child that died, and have to bite her lip to keep from crying. In her magic lessons she was learning how to defend herself from anything and how to to change herself into anything. Winter slowly changed to spring, with nothing much happening except little things like putting salt instead of sugar in the cake, and the gypsies coming, but that was it, and time went on, full of laughter and dancing, hardw ork and friends. Spring changed to Summer and still the life was merry, until `the' day. It was a sunny day and Lynne had overslept. Kinny was leaning over her and clicking her tongue. "Lynney, Lynney, come on. Remember, Cosie's giving us three hours off this morning to go to the beach, come on!" Lynne, after the first blink, leaped out of bed. "Too true, lets go!" After quickly changing, they ran down to the beach, racing each other, then jumping from rock to rock, splashing 59 and paddling in the rock pool. Why worry about tomorrow, here was today! When the rock pools disappeared, they paddled in the sea, laughing and singing. The sun glinted on the water, and the breezes danced, playing with their hair and clothes. Then suddenly they realised the time and went thudding back across the beach, still laughing, and up the main street, holding hands as they ran. They laughed and sang all morning and a happy sea breeze seemed to laugh with them. They sang every song they knew, and by lunch time they were repeating them. It was strange no one had dropped in though. Normally people were always calling in for a chat, but then, with this weather everyone was probably at the beach. "And on the green green banks Of the River Lore Me and my love will part" They were singing when Cosie burst in from above. "How can you still be singing ?" she cried in anguish, and there were deep purple circles under her eyes. "Do you not know that the village has been struck by the Black Fever itself?" And a deep and heavy stillness settled over the kitchen. 60 CHAPTER 7 - FEVER The Black Fever meant a big change. On the first day day three died , on the second ten, and there was no more stopping to chat. Everyone was wearing black. The disease was the worst anyone had ever seen. First came an awful headache, that writhed the whole body, and then the pain started to spread down till every part of you was aching, then came the fever, and finally came a calm, where every ounce of strength was drained from them and they slipped away, and even the small black dots that came with the fever disaappeared, and they looked like they had just died in their sleep. All anyone could do was watch or cool with a wet cloth. Lynettt was wearing black from the first day, but she was also the only one who knew how to heal it, since no one from the palace was allowed in or out. She started making the medicine at once. It was putrid smelling and oily, but it needed to be made. Slowly she went round to every house where the sickness was and rubbed it in, and soon she could tell which ones would make it through and which ones ..... wouldn't.. The pub was practically empty now and and the dress shop closed, with boards nailed over the windows. Lynne called on the magic of the sea to wash herself so she couldn't be infected , but even that took some of the strength that she desperately needed. And oh the sight to see one more person say goodbye to their family - whether it was "Remember to feed the cat" or "I love you" to a husband or wife, it always left her with tears in her eyes .Kinny helped her too, and they were like sisters, fighting , bickering laughing, as they tried to keep up the farce, and crying together when no one was watching. And they never stopped working, brewing the potion, visiting, gathering the powers of the earth, and having a few minutes sleep every now and then. But unless you used vast amounts, magic did nothing, it just bounced off, and Lynne felt helpless. Once they reached the fever stage she could do nothing, but fight the tears. 61 She that could do just about anything, even make a pavlova that worked - she couldn't do anything. Her nails clenched into her palms leaving deep red marks.. She and Kinny washed the same to dresses over and over again, in the magic of running water to make sure the disease wouldn't catch on to them and spread with them. Then they'd make the potions in the long cool nights, their hair bound back in scarfs, and Cosie would sit back in bewilderment - these two girls, looking so naive in white while muttering things so powerful and circling round the boiling pot like witches, Lynne especially - and then poor Cosie would hide her head in her apron. No one stayed in the inn any more. The two girls had disinfected and closed all the rooms, all but two that was, one Cosie and her husband's room and the other the kitchen where the two girls now slept. Lynne had packed, packed, disinfected and buried all her things for later. The houses everywhere they visited were small, and most showed signs that they had once been warm and cosy, but now they were untidy and messy, smelling must and stale, and there were the slum houses, small and dirty, and it was in houses like those that whole families could be wiped out in a day. The little faces when they were in headache stages were almost too much to bear. The tiny mouths would quiver and the eyes wracked with pain, but Lynettt was lucky to get them in that stage. Normally they arrived when the fever had already come and it was too late. Old Timmy went in the second month. He was the last of his family and he went holding Lynettt's hand until the end. She had arrived too late. "Dovey , keep your pecker up won't you, be proud, and don't cry when I'm gone, understand?" he gasped with a feeble attempt to laugh, his wrinkled old old face on the white pillows, covered with black dots. Lynney and Kinny's eyes were already filled with tears. One dropped down on his face . 62 "What did I tell you dovey, no crying." Hee tried again to laugh and Lynney kissed him on the forhead . "Bye bye, doves, this is my carriage," he smiled ,and slowly life fled from his face. Lynne wondered once why SHE didn't get the illness. After all it was only her clothes that were washed in magic, but somehow it seemed it was impossible for her to get it, and for Kinny too. Perhaps it was her necklace, she knew it was magic it must be , and it didn't come off . She could move it around all she liked but it wouldn't come off her head, and the clasp had melded together. It probably was the necklace, she let it go at that. Twiller and Mistlet were worried by then. "Lynne, you and Kinny must get some sleep. Lynne, I order you to !" commanded Mistlet angrily, sending off a soft silvery light . "Look these people need help. alright." I can stand it. See, I'm "You are not alright. You have bags under your eyes, your hair is lank, you're dead white and you look awful. No, don't stop me, you do, and you wouldn't even be standing if you weren't using your magic. Do you realise that by the law of logic, you should be dead by now, and you could die any minute!" the angry cat snapped back. "Well, so could all the sick people out there, if I don't help them. Better one than one hundred!" she flashed, her eyes seeming to go even darker. "But you can't go on like this. Do you realise that you aren't old enough to know how to gather enough out of the worlds? And do you know that instead you're using too much of youre own magic, AND to help balance it out you're turning yourself into magic - because we do, even if you don't!" Twiller whisked his tail angrily. "I'm sorry I've got to. Don't you see, if I don't do this now I'll never stand up to myself again? I've got to." She stomped away, leaving Twiller and Mistlet shaking their heads. 63 It was the next day she heard, Marie was sick. She heard it from a street beggar, all ragged and dirty. They were standing right under the tree that had sold her flowers when he blurted it out "Miss, miss, me frien Marie sent me, she's ill with te fever come quick wil ye!" Lynett and Kinny took a quick glance at one another and started running towards the road to the farm. Lynett's bag banged at her side as they ran along the road as fast as their skirts would allow, tripping and stumbling on the rough stones, until they finally reached the cottage. The orange-haired little girl of the snow fight opened the door, her small face bewildered with fear, and her eyes glazed. Lynne picked her up and put her on one hip, she had grown used to looking after small children, "Wheres Marie?" she asked, softly stroking the dirty red hair. The girl pointed and Lynne and Kinny followed her hand down the hall to a bedroom, where Marie was writhing on a double bed, "Kinny, Lynney?" she said slowly when she saw them. "Yes, yes, we're here now, we'll help all we can." Kinny reassured her . "Yes, all you can." Marie smiled a tiny bit, slightly sarcastically. Already the black spots had com , only a few but more were coming. She had lost her will to live, her husband had died the week before. Lynne sat down on her bed. If it was the last thing she did, in some way, whatever it was, she would help Marie, though Marie did not seem to want to be helped . Lynne took the black spotted hand in her own, and Kinny, knowing what to expect, prepared a table with the lotion and warm water boiled on the fire in the corner of the room. The little red-haired girl stood in the other corner of the room, her hands twisted in front of her, looking on silently. 64 Lynne went inside Marie's very soul, and what she knew had once been rose coloured was now a browny yellow purply colour, though the pink was still fighting to come through. Lynne tried to use her magic to give Marie the strength to pull out, Marie gave it back, in the corner the little girl was biting her hand, and holding her head. Inside was Marie, the real Marie, a queen, all her roughness of speech gone, and her chubby cheeks too, but the queen was pale and dying, she seemed like a shadow. "Marie I've come to help." "I thank you for it,"the queen said faintly "Take my magic, you can make it, take it, take it." "No, you know what will happen if I take it, even if you pretend not to. No ,I am over, " the queen that was Marie said calmly. "Marie, you must." Lynne tried to force it on her, Marie forced it back. "My way is this way." Drat that goddess, Marie couldn't die, she couldn't. Lynne had one more try at catching Marie off guard , to force the magic on her, again it didn't work. Sadly she withdrew. Marie smiled weakly. "Thankyou. I go soon," she gasped. "But look after Cheridee for me, please, Lynne, please, and you, not anyone else. Promise," Marie implored. "I promise." "Thankyou. Her things are about the house in a chest somewhere. Look after her well, my sister's daughter." Marie turned to look at the girl in the corner, who ran and knelt besides her. "Cheridee,see, here's your cousin and your mummy. Lynett's your mummy now, Lynett's your mummy now." Marie reached down and hugged the small sobbing figure, and suddenly she wasn't there, and it was only a body lying on the bed. Marie had gone to meet her husband. 65 It took some time for them to find the chest and it was dark by the time they reached the inn. Cosie greeted them at the door, "You're back, thank the gods. Me nephew Luke's been taken sic , can ye see im?" Lynne and Kinny sighed and nodded. They wanted to get Cheridee settled in, but they must go. "Of course, Cosie. You mean the one by the market?" "Aye, that's the one. I'll look after te wee lass when ye're away, she's Marie's sister's girl is she, te one born o the gypsies is she. Well she's right bonny. An thankee so much." Cosie thanked them gratefully, taking Cheridee's hand from where she stood behind Lynne, and a glimmer of a smile passed across the tearstained face. Luckily the nephew was only in the early stages, and it took only a couple of hours to get him past the danger zones. It was when they got home they sensed something was wrong. It was like a thick grey fog that you couldn't see, only feel. And then they knew for certain when they found Cosie crying with big despairing sobs in the doorway, her head bowed, her back bent. "Oh Lynney, Lynney, ye wee girl, she's been takin ill." Lynne and Kinny gasped and then ran in. Cheridee was pale and shaking in violent sobs as Lynett's bed. Lynne ran over and put an arm round her neck, and stroked her head and cheek with the other, to calm her down. She had the spots. Lynne nodded to Kinny, who went to get the things ready. Lynne meanwhile was gently easing Cheridee into a more comfortable position. Kinny passed the lotion and Lynne started rubbing it in to the poor soft skin covered in those terrible dots. Cheridee seemed hardly aware of what was happening. The room was dim and the blankets coarse, Cosie stood crying in the doorway, leaning on her husband and Kinny stood at attendance. They battled on until midnight, using everything they could think off ,listening to the muffled sounds of the 66 village, the crickets chirping, chanting, birds singing, crying, and the wails of those mourning the dead. All in the shadow of darkness. But Lynne knew what it would come to. The long clawing branches tapped at the window like witches' hands. She left Cheridee's side, her head bent and went to Kinny. "When I go, look after Cheridee for me." and she slipt into the room again, leaving Kinny outside to cry and bite her nails outside the thick wooden door. She glided over to the bed, and picked up the small girl in her arms, sweaty and fevery. As I live and die.. Slowly she gathered all the magic from within the earth, and then started draining herself. It filled the room and seeped under the door. Then she gathered it all up and made it force on Cheridee, filling her until she could hardly stand it. Then Lynne disappeared into Cheridee's mind, to try and force the fever out of her mind. If it left there, it would leave her body, but Lynne would have to leave quickly, or Cheridee would come with her wherever she went. It was impossible for Lynne to live without her soul, and her soul had been made into magic, already she was living on borrowed time. She kept probing at Cheridee's mind, trying to find a gap, but everywere were the awful claws of the fever, clutching, refusing to let go, like a giant thornbush, wild and bushy, with thorns ready to spear anyone who came close, always moving, always ready. The small Lynne, like the small Marie, circled round and round with sword drawn. But there was no gap, no place were it was even near possible. The small Lynne stepped forward, the large Lynne was still holding Cheridee, but the large Lynett's eyes were glazed - not there. But inside the battle went on, and with every swinging blow of the sword, and with every claw that she cut off, another 67 clawlike tentacle grew. The little Lynne was getting angry and tears were falling in hot red trickles down her taut white face. She lunged again towards the bushy claws and slashed, running forward as she cut. The thorns cut her hand, sank in, refusing to let go , she pulled through, the thorns stayed in and she was bleeding, the little Lynne and the big, great wide gashes, with the blood staining everything , and the thorns firmly embedded and wriggling their way to her heart. Twiller and Mistlet who had appeared from nowhere saw the blood and shook their heads, tiny cats' tears welling up in their eyes. In the battle of the minds Lynett felt her self being drained. It was attacking her, and soon, very soon, if she didn't hurry....... But then she was in, and the tiny Cheridee was crying in the middle of it, among shadows and terrors and teardrops. The little Lynne made her way over to Cheridee and put her arm round her, whispering "Hold on, just hold on and be prepared, it won't be long." She kissed little Cheridee on the forehead, then she gathered up all her magic once more, from everywhere it had been preparing Cheridee for this. It flew into little Lynett's hands and for a minute it felt as if she had regained her strength. The tears had dried and the blood had disappeared on little Lynne, it only stayed on big Lynne, congealed. Little Lynne felt the magic tingling through her blood, tickling her fingers, then she threw it all down at Cheridee, so not a drop of it remained, and she was empty. But still she had it in her control , she still made it do what she wanted. The big Lynne was as white as paper, except for th blood, and she was barely breathing . The little Lynne made the magic spurt out with all of her strengt that wasn't there, borrowed, to kill the fever, and her mind chanted over and over, "Kill it, kill it, kill it." And with 68 one last gathering of strength, she threw it everywhere, and the fever flew. The fever died and disappeared from Cheridee, it filled the village, and the fever twisted and writhed, the magic killed and destroyed it, as it rushed about like an invisible whirlwind. And then the fever was gone, as suddenly as it had come, and with it Lynne, as suddenly as she had come. She was just no longer there, and Cheridee was sleeping silently on the pillow, her fever and spots gone. Twiller and Mistlet glanced at each other and walked to the door. It opened in front of them. Cosie, Leon and Kinny almost fell through from where they had been listening to the silence behind the door. "Why on earth did she do it? the fool, the fool." "Come, come Rowena, she didn't mean it. Can you blame her?" "No, no, I can't , but, but.. ." The whispering was above her, a faint breeze ran around her, she blinked her eyes and turned over. The two voices became blurry white figures as her eyes opened. They leaned over her. "Ah, you're awake. You've been asleep for years, in fact by your time, decades, for our time minutes - but come, I think you're nearly betterr. But you have a lot to learn, and knowing you, we're the only ones who could possibly help you. This is my sister Rowena, and I am Twilea." 69 CHAPTER 8 - THE GYPSIES She was back in her bed, in the attic and it was morning, and she'd just had the most beautiful dream, or was it a most awful nightmare, she couldn't work it out, it seemed like there had been no fever, no deaths, as if she had never met the goddesses, yes surely it had been a very strange dream. Help. Look at the sun. She must be late, and Cosie wouldn't be at all pleased. She started to . . , but she was tricking herself. It had all happened, and she had a sister, a little girl, Cheridee. She laughed softly, such a joke, the spoilt princess with a full time babysitting job. If anyone had told anyone only two years before that the Princess Tatslina would become a kitchen maid, bar girl and adopt a grubby six year old girl! She got out of bed and slowly went downstairs. She could hear talking in the kitchen. And a small girl crying. "Where is she? tell me, tell me ." "But I can't, she's gone, gone, she's gone." Kinny was crying hysterically, repeating it over and over again, lost. This was the time for the grand entrance! She opened the kitchen door. "Slight mistake there, Kinny, the goddesses saved me and took me in!" Cheridee was already halfway up the stairs, Kinny was standing were she had been, transfixed, and her mouth open. Something tinkled to the ground, and crashed, bits of glass sprinkled the floor. Cheridee was already clinging to Lynett's neck. Kinny started to run too, her skirts flying, she was up the stairs and was hugging Lynne and Cheridee, her cheek against Lynett's. 70 That evening Cosie and Kinny made a feast, and all that was left of the town came. A third was gone, gone like that, and everyone was dulled as if they were a bag of smog. But they enjoyed themselves, and were starting to put up a system for helping the orphans like Cheridee. They pointed out, what was going to happen to her? A girl of (twelve, or was it eleven?) couldn't look after a small girl, even if she was a magician. Lynett thought otherwise. "Excuse me, but I'm not too young, and Cheridee's staying with me, aren't you Cherri?" she turned to smile back. The busy bodies shook their heads and frowned but Lynne and Cherri only laughed. The three girls went for a walk along the beach that evening, Kinny and Lynney giving Cherri one, two, threes as they went. "Kinny, do you know what you're doing after ... this?" "Aye, that I do, me an me boy are goin t'open a orphanage for te wee uns in old Timmy's place. Tis te largest place around. An ye?" Lynett was silent, thinking. "I'm thinking of travelling on with Cheridee, though I'm not sure when. I'll try and help the village get together first, but then, yes, we'll go on." The sky was pink and shone across the sea in glittering rays. A few months after that the gypsies came, singing their songs as they ran laughing through the village with their brightly coloured wagons. And when they came, Lynne and Cheridee were there and when they left, Lynne and Cheridee weren't, and tears filled the eyes of the whole village. They were running, flying, Lynne and Cheridee, laughing. It was dusk in the woods, and a soft orphanage light shone through the leaves. They were holding hands as they ran, Lynne slowing so that Cheridee could keep up. The gypsies had camped for the night and a boy a bit older than Lynne had told them to go for a walk until the Princess asked for them, and they had. They stopped for a while and sat in an old pine tree as night stole upon them, and they talked of all the things that Lynett 71 could think of, the words tumbling out of Cheridee's mouth as she spoke - and as they heard the first bird calling to its mate in the mysterious darkness, they went back to the gypsy camp, hearing the laughter before they saw it. They saw the embers of the fire before anything else. It was Dommy, the boy who had told them before to go for a walk, who took them to the Princess' caravan with its bright paint and flowers. "Just go in, her highness is expecting you." She jumped at his voice. Mostly everyone left out letters everywhere, and she hadn't noticed before that he didn't. He nodded, smiled and left. Cheridee and Lynne took one last look out into the darkness and stepped in. The Princess was lying on a much-cushioned bed. She was old, older than ninety, but it didn't seem it. Her skin was brown and wrinkled, but she lay proudly on the cushions, looking them over. Lynett, who had never felt awed, felt awed. Here, was a queen of queens. The candle light flickered shadows on their faces, and Cheridee moved closer to Lynett and tugged her skirt to be lifted up. Lynett lifted her up and continued looking at the Princess's curious face, until the Princesss broke into a smile. "Come children, I am pleased with what I see, sit down and keep me company." The Princess patted a place on the bed and Lynett and Cheridee sat down. "You are planning to join the tribe?" "If I may." "You may, you will like it, it was destined for you, and I was waiting for you. My crystal said naught of your friend though!" She smiled at Cheridee, who shyly smiled back. "Will you have your fortune read?" the Princess asked suddenly. "If you will." What could there be for her to read? "Your life is an unusual one, almost unique, hard, though satisfying. You could be - the one . . " The Princess was staring 72 into the air, as if seeing visions, though try as she might, Lynett couldn't see anything. "But will I save Billowa, travel, marry, find a house, a home will I?" she asked in a breath. A fat lot of good what the Princess had told her would do . "Now shoo, begone, there is the door. I need to think, so go, I said go!" but the two girls had already fled. The next morning they were moving again, running along in the forest or plodding besides the caravan. They looked like real gypsies now, their skirts ragged and blouses short, with scarfs and shawls flung about. Cathal had taken one look at them when she first saw them and burst out laughing. "Come on, ye'll have to change from them. Why, people will think we've kidnapped you!"she giggled. Lynne let the silk scarf run through her fingers, then ran further through the forest, trying to avoid the autumn blackberrries, and breathing in big breaths of the brisk air. The leaves were orange now, and blowing in the wind. Lynne and Cheridee ran with the gypsies, picking blackberries as the day went by. Nearly all the days passed like that, the children playing in the forest surrounding the path and the adults walking alongside the caravans, yelling jokes as they went, with birds on perches chirping and perhaps a fiddler sitting on a roof, playing all the favourite songs. Then at night when all the children caught up, they danced and sat around the fireside over a dinner of rabbit stew that the men had caught, or pigeon and sometimes deer and boar. And they were happy. She had the wild free spaces she yearned for and that she loved. As always she was soon a favourite, `she had er way' as as the gypsies put it, and she fitted without a doubt. She and Cheridee slept in the caravan after the royal one. Every night they would go and speak to the Princess, who without ever leaving the caravan (that anybody saw) managed to look after her whole tribe, and all the tribes 73 everywhere - though that was the biggest one, with more than thirty five caravans and a hundred and three people. The space in Lynett and Cheridee's caravan was little, for it was the storage one, but it was warm and their own, and it was cosy and comfy, with ribbons hanging from the roof, a small little fire, great thick quilts and Lynett's dove singing in the doorway. It was when they went through the towns that they sometimes felt unhappy, "Keep your theivin fingers of a me stuff, tinker brats!" people would yell after them. "Get out o where ye're not wanted, gypsy thieves!" again and again. Well, it wasn't really their fault that things were there when they came, and not there when they left - sheer coincidence? Anyway it was only the rich oily merchants that....... found things missing, not the poorer ones, and there were always those that welcomed. "Hey give us a song." "Have a cake!" And though the fathers of young ladies always took great care of their daughters, in months later there'd be little blackhaired, brown-skinned bundles! As the song said, "Mind all ye wares, An lock up ye daughters Te gypsies are comin to town! They are? They are! Te gypsies are comin te town. TE RAAAH! We'll make ye laugh, An make ye cry. But watch ye'r pocket An mind all ye'r wares Lock up ye'r daughters , An feel for ye'r knife! Te gypsies are comin te town 74 TEEEEEEEE RAH!! They'd sing in the pubs at night, only in small groups though, while the pub people tapped there feet in tune, and the women back at the caravans mended pots and the men made jewellry. It was only the young who sang. Lynett was in a group with Cathal, Dommy, Mieka and Nick, while Cheridee went round with her tamo'shanter held out, and her eyes lifted bewitchingly, while people piled the money in. Lynett played the mandolin, sometimes singing, sometimes dancing, Dommy the gemshorm, a horn made out of a goat's horn with a low, sweet mystical sound, Cathal the violin, Mieka and Nick the guitar, and they played with all the fire and joy of the travelling folk, and all the sadness and despair. By the time the week was over they had usually raised enough money, to when they had given the amount deemed over to the tribe, to buy a little scarf or beret at the market, though when they went with Dommy or Nick, they would often end up with considerably more, mainly in the knife and dagger line! Often when they left a town, children would follow and ask to join, usually the same black-eyed, brown-skinned bundles, they had left the last time they visited! They travelled on and on, though no one tired of it. Everyday there was something new, a flower, a sunset, a game, a song, a hill, or even a new town, and the first snow, it came during the night. The last thing Lynett saw through her window as she went to sleep was the gentle falling of snowflakes on the dying fires, and she snuggled down into her blankets, secure and happy. In the morning everything was covered in glittering white, and snow meant winter clothes, thick woollen dresses, still covered in jewellery and scarves, very torn stockings (two pairs, so that if there was a hole in one place in one, there wouldn't be in the other, hopefully)and sturdy little boots, and snow meant 75 snowfights, and frozen rivers to slip and slide on, icicles hung from the trees, as though a fairy had waved her wand over it and they had just appeared.. Uncles and fathers were were begged, and iceskates were quickly made, and the lakes were filled with whirling bright skirts and scarfes, gliding round and round until, EEeeeowww! and two legs would suddenly fly up in the air and someone would be down on the ground , grinning goodnaturedly, till their friends came and whisked them off again, still laughing. At night Lynett went to the Princesses to learn the deep magic, the magic of the soul of the earth. "Yes, yes, you have learnt the magician's feeble methods of filtering it from the surface. I teach the magic of magic." the Princess had told her the first night she had come, and after that she told no one what she learnt. Cathal, Nick and Dommy were her best friends, but when they paired off it was Cathal and Nick against Dommy and Lynett . Cheridee played with her own friends. Winter was hard for the gypsies, the food often ran out and the caravans would get caught in snowdrifts. But still the foursome stuck together, rambling over the drifts and between the icycled trees. Though somehow it grew so it was more Nick and Cathal and Dommy and Lynett. In the mornings, they'd all start out together. Lynne would leave Cheridee with her friends and give her a kiss, and would meet the three, and they would start off into the forest, but as the day went by they'd gradually drift off, one to iceskate, the others to walk, one to sit still, the others to run, and before dusk they'd have separated, sometimes into three groups, sometimes they'd all drift off alone, but normally into pairs, or sometimes like today, they'd join up with another group and play. Which was what they were doing today. 76 "Tiggy,Tyra's It, fifty off, okay?" Tyra counted aloud, her face to a tree trunk , and they scampered off, trying not to slip on the snow. Lynett took one direction, and Dommy followed. They ran on and on, stumbling in the snow, until hot and breathless Lynett collapsed under a tree, gasping, her cheeks and nose red from running and eyes bright. Dommy stood behind her. "Think we're safe now?" "We better be, we've run miles ands miles and miles." Lynett said breathlessly. "Well, I wouldn't quiet say that, but... " Dommy laughed. Lynett shivered and sat up. "Wasn't I the fool, sitting on snow." She laughed ruefully at her wet behind. "Ye, s you are, aren't you , but look! I just glanced up at the sky and it looks like a blizzard." Dommy sounded worried. Lynett looked up, and it did look like a blizzard. The first snowflakes were beginning to fall. "You're right, let's go." They started walking, and walking, but they recognized nothing. They got to where the camp should have been, but there was nothing. Where was that log they had jumped over, that nest they had noticed ? But it was all gone, only the swirling snow remained. "Dommy, where are we?" she asked at last. "I don't know, but we must be somewhere." he encouraged. "Must we? looked around. "No, do you?" "No." "Okay, can you be quiet for awhile? I'll try some magic the Princess taught me." I'm not too sure." They slowed down and "Do you remember any of this?" 77 The wind was whirling round and now the blizzard was in full force. Lynett drew her cloak round her, and crossed her legs. Behind her she felt Dommy come up and sit beside her. But she was quickly fleeing from this world to another. She could see now the reason they were lost. It was magic, bad magic. She could see the goddess of snow trapped in some way, her power used against her. The poor weak thing, she could only harm by patience, unless one of the winds played tricks on her, but this was no trick, this was magic, bad magic, by the Lortan leader the Rinn! She could see how he had done it too, calling up the forces of the gods of evil, but how to reverse it? The work of the gods, even change. the bad ones, was hard to There was no choice though. It was impossible to get out of a wood that wasn't there. She changed into Little Lynett and went inside a tunnel, making her magic take her to the place it started, and the place to finish it. The centre was a small black cave, in the middle of a big black nothingness. A wind swept round, a wind that carried with it the smell of death. Foul and putrid. She could hear wailing. Despair. She entered the cave . She could feel a presence, an evil presence. "A challenge I give you. You against me in sword or magic, by your choice. Come out." She said it calmly, wondering how she could keep calm. At the back of her mind she felt Dommy's hand on her shoulder. "I accept your challenge, a dual." Out of nothing stepped The Rinn. His sword was drawn. "Of course, but first I need a sword. So if you will?" She raised an eyebrow in a sweet sarcastic smile, and held out her hand. A sword appeared, and she tested it. 78 "Rules please." "As you wish." The Rinn bowed and went on. "The rules we fight to the finnish, magic may be used to strengthen, but nothing else, gods may be called upon, may the best man -" She glared at him, and he smiled at her, amused, "I mean, the best person - win. We will begin." Just before the fighting started, one last thought came to Lynett's mind. "I hope Cheridee's alright in the blizzard." The fighting began. The Rinn lunged. Lynett blocked. "Most amusing, your looking after the girl, a gypsy bastard at that - ah you didn't know, why your friends," (oh the scorn he put into the word friends) "Mother took her in for her sister, and her sister had fallen in love with a gypsy, surely you of all people how it is." the Rinn said, just slightly breathless. Lynett had thought it impossible for a face to look so cruel . They battled on and on. Lynett would have given up but then what would happen to Cheridee and Dommy? Lunge, block, turn, block, spin, dodge, kick. Oh mother, mother mother of love, help me please, Twilea, please, please, Cile, anyone, please, please, I've got to get through. Lunge, duck, block, oww - the swords moved like lightning, the blades shining, and the noise of them clashing echoed in the silence. Oh mother, mother, mother. The swords were locked for a minute. With a mighty push she flung him off, and attacked again, and just for a second, the Rinn was off balance, and trying not to think, she plunged the sword towards him, and everything seemed to be in slow motion, her sword gleaming and going towards him, his face, still sarcastically laughing. He saw the sword, tried to dodge, but didn't quite make it. It got the side of his stomach, and went right through. She saw the blood pouring out, thick and red, and her own stomack turned over . . . and suddenly it all disappeared, the blood, the cave, everything, and she was 79 under the pine tree, her head on Dommy's shoulder, crying, and he was patting her back trying to comfort her, and slowly they walked back to the camp. 80 CHAPTER 9 - GYPSY GIRL "But how did I survive? That's what I want to know. I would have thought it was impossible. In the days that we were actually nearly on speaking terms they said he was one of the best swordsmen ever. I wouldn't have thought I stood a chance !" Lynnet burst out. She was in the Princess's caravan and they were talking as it bumped and swayed its way along. "You did not. He was only testing. He knew he could not kill you then. It is too soon after you have come out of the palace at the end of the world. He was just testing. If you had not gone to the palace at the end of the world, you would not be here now," the princess said, matter of factly. "But why did he let me hurt him? I drew my sword right through his side. Why?" she asked, bewildered. "I do not know. You are stronger than you think, but you have a lot to learn yet. Some I can teach you, some I cannot, but all I can teach you, teach you I will." Lynnet was still pondering over why he had let her hurt him. Why ? "Off you go now. Dommy is waiting for you. Oh and you had better look in on your cats this evening . They're here playing with my monkeys happily in the last caravan, but I think they are getting jealous. You are not seeing them so often now, also Cheridee, she needs more security, you are her third mother and she expects you to disappear any minute. She was not there when you were lost in the storm last night, and I who can read into the mind saw, I saw . . . You would be best to spend more time with her. Go now, before Dommy too becomes jealous." The Princess laughed and Lynnet, laughing too, slipped out of the caravan. "Hello Dommy, I haven't kept you too long have I ?" "No, but Cathal and Nick are already far ahead." "Oh well, mabey we'll catch up. Race you to that middle tree over there - One , two,three - Go !" They tore off but slipped halfway there, where the snow had frosted over. 81 "Great. Now I'm all wet again, great great great and double great," she moaned from where she sat on the floor of the forest, speculatively rubbing her back. "IF you hadn't bumped me then I never would have fallen." she complained, mock pouting, with the laughter lurking in the back of her eyes. Dommy put on a mock pout too. "And if you hadn't grabbed on to me when you felt yourself falling !" His pout changed into a laugh. Lynnet started laughing too. "Come on, aren't we foolish, sitting here getting wetter and wetter all the time!" "Aren't we!" He stood up and with a big flourish held out a hand. "Me lady?" Lynnet held out an arm and he hauled her up. "Hey look, is that Cathal and Nick up ahead ?" she asked, pointing to a red skirt just disappearing. "I don't know. I'll just go and check. Coming?" "In a minute. I'll just straighten myself out. I'll catch up with you in a minute." Dommy nodded and ran on . Lynnet started pacing the snow around, and shaking the snow from her skirt - there was magic somewhere and strong, she could feel it, but where was it? She was just about to give in and go running after Dommy, when suddenly the snow gave in under her, and she was falling , falling . . . "Ooooyouch -" She had seen all the snow go past as she fell, then a thin layer of earth, then roc , and it was on rock she finally landed, in a pile of snow. And all round her were these small hairy things, about up to her waist, fat and chubby with big noses and small eyes. They wore furs and they stank, they were leaning over her and crowding round. She pulled her knees up and hugged them. "We got em, we got em, we got er, we got er!" the things shouted again and again. She tried to yell up, and tell them they hadn't, and she wanted to know what was going on, but they were shouting too loud and everything echoed. She tried to stand up but the roof was too low, so she sat down again, and 82 stared. All these hands were reaching out for her, grubby and hairy. "We want her, we want her, she's ours, she's ours!" reaching, pulling her hair, staring. Stop it , Stop it! she yelled in her mind. If only Twiller or Mistlet were here - or Tally or Dommy . . . if only. She couldn't run away . She could try magic, but she had felt a strong magic when she had been up on top - though how these awful things could have any magic was beyond her, and it was damp and cold down here and she was scared, and.... She knew she was just thinking up excuses for bursting into tears, which was what she was going to do, but why was she going to cry now and crying had been the last thing on her mind when she was fighting The Rinn? Well, she wasn't going to question it, she looked around desperately - if only Great, this was ridiculous. She had just fought one of the best swordsmen in all of history, and here she was about to cry when these tinny little things attacked her. She crossed her legs, straightened her back and stuck her chin in the air, and it seemed they understood, for one of them called for silence and beckoned for her to follow as he led them through the underground passageways. By the gods this was humiliating. At least most prisoners could act brave and noble and heroic. Crawling along on hands and knees was not either noble or dignified. And though she wouldn't admit it, even to herself, she didn't like the thought of all that earth, rock and snow above her. But at last they came to a large cavern that she could stand up in. It was enormous and filled with staligmites and stalactites. At one end of the cavern stood a large rock table and at the other a fountain, but it was to the table they were going. She was glad to stretch her back, but when she stood she felt so big and awkward over the little things, as in her mind she insisted on calling them. One of the things pointed to a chair near the head of the table and she sat down. 83 Dancing Girl 84 "Pwinces , we take you to be ouw Pwincess," the thing at the head of the table started up. "Yes, yes, ouw Pwincess." the others chorused out. "But I don't want to be your Princess." she objected when the noise died down. "Ow." The faces looked so sad and disappointed that she nearly smiled. "But," the leader objected, and all their faces brightened up when he spoke, "We got you so you ouw Pwincess now." They all nodded in some of the biggest grins Lynnet had ever seen. "But I WONT be your Princess," she said coldly, though a part of her hated to hurt the happy little things. "You will, you will, we want you, we want you," they chorused. It was starting to get dangerous. They were all like young children, happy as long as they got their own way, but bursting into a tantrum when they didn't. She could see the scowls beginning. "I'm sorry but I won't," she said again. The scowls were deepening now. She tried to pacify, "I'm really very sorry but I can't." She knew she was about to watch a classic tantrum. "You will you will you will," they shouted, shaking their fists and stamping their feet. One or two went the whole way and started banging the table with their hands. She was carted off to a sort of dungeon, though she couldn't imagine the THINGS ever having enough concentration to finish something, and knowing that, she wondered if they would even remember to feed her. Somehow she doubted it. She tried to use her magic to get out, straining with all her might, until she was sweating, but it didn't work. "Don't bother trying ." She jumped as she heard a voice weak and thin. She spun round and behind her , sitting down, was a dwarf . These she knew. Very occasionally she had seen them at court, but mostly they stayed below earth or out of sight. "Greetings from Bimpins the dwarf," he said wearily. "I've been here for a year and you're right, magic doesn't work in 85 here, and you don't get fed, and if you do it's only briefly . Round about once a season they suddenly remember I'm here and give me a full course meal, then they forget all about me and I'm back to eating earth. I don't know how you're going to manage," he drawled critically. Neither did she, and one thing was for sure. She could sure find a nicer fellow prisoner, and a nicer prison! "But what are they? I cant figure them out!" If she was going to be stuck here for ever she might as well know something about her capturers. "They're Dwarges, a sort of off-beat dwarf, and they're also under the god of the underground's protection, so you can't do anything against them, he takes things so personally." She asked some other questions but the dwarf just started grunting in return, so she started to look round the dungeon. It was larg , and was just like a cave without an exit. There were loose rocks in corners everywhere and as she left the front of the dungeon where all the lights were, she started to trip over them in the dark. Finally she gave in, and curling up in a little ball she fell asleep. And when she awoke there was the same darkness, and she was sore , cold and lonely. What was everyone doing now without her? What had Dommy done when he discovered her gone? Was Cheridee alright? She didn't like to think of another putting her to bed at night. That was something she always did, and she'd tell her stories and they'd sing and tell jokes before they went to bed. She hoped Cheridee wouldn't have any nightmares, she had them such a lot and it was so hard to calm her. Lynnet smiled ruefully. She was thinking like an old hen, and she was only thirteen going on fourteen, but that didn't stop her worrying. She reached up a hand to feel her necklaces, and she pulled them out from under her dress, and stared. The pearl one shone in the dark, and it was glowing more. She rubbed her eyes, she was sure of it. She stood up slowly and started to look round for a way out. 86 The light was small, and though she searched, she couldn't find any hole at all. In the end she stopped looking, and ate the last remaining sweet in her pocket. She had filled her pocket with them before she left, but she had gradually eaten them as the day wore on, and Dommy had their lunch in a small bag round his shoulders. She wondered what he was doing now. Were they looking for her? She knew they'd never find her, and even if they did, they'd never be able to get her out. She again fell asleep. -------She spent the next two or three weeks in a sort of daze, between sleeping in a nightmare world or wandering around in a tottering sort of way for a way out, but not once did she even find the beginnings of a hole. The only thing that kept her going was that the second day she had been there, a rock suddenly started to trickle water, not much but enough for about four handfuls a day - not that she knew when day or night was and even with that she judged she had a week too live, when she had strength to think about it. But it all came to a halt one day, when she heard shouts and yells coming closer and closer. They had come to release her, she prayed over and over again. The door opened, and light poured in. She blinked and fell back. After seeing only the small glow from her necklace for a fortnight, the light from their lanterns was almost too much, and they were there again, just as smelly and hairy as she remembered, and they were coming towards her. She stepped back but still they came. "You mawwy our leader, mawwy our leader,"they shouted. She saw him, he was standing in the doorway of the dungeon, smirking, as fat and repulsive as ever. Marry him, never ! "No!" she yelled trying to be heard over the din, and those who heard it yelled "Yes you will, yes you will," and the others joined in. She stepped back, they tried to pull her forward, she stepped back agai , so did they, tugging and pulling at her skirt, every where she went they were there. She saw a gap and started running , everything was blurry , she felt them pulling at her dress , she saw their hands coming towards her, she kept on 87 running, she was running to the back of the dungeon, she knew they'd get her, but while there was life there was hope, she kept on, and suddenly just as they were getting closer, there was nothing under her, and she was falling. -------When she awoke from her coma, she was on a soft bed of heather, and two dwarfs were looking down at her . When they saw her eyes flutter open, they turned round and whispered to other dwarfs behind her, "Do not worry, she is alright." Their slow gentle speech reminded her of the Princess's, and their faces were wise and kind. She was hungry, and they gave her food, she was thirsty, and they gave her drink, she smiled to thank them, they smiled back pleased. B ut when she tried to raise her head it was too weak and fell back on the pillow. "Sleep now, everything is alright , your little girl is safe, your friends are fine, we have Bimpins back. Sleep now." She slept. And when she awoke they were still there, handing her drinks, washing her face. She was wearing different clothes now, loose and fresh, and she could see her old ones lying washed and clean by her feet. A pixy came into her sight and smiled. "My friends the dwarfs would not let me heal you, but they let me pick my clothes and dress you." The pixy was lovely. She had delicate features and pointed ears, and her long dark hair fell loosely down her back. She was dressed in creamy white, streaked with brown, and she was wearing a gold necklace. She noticed Lynnet staring and laughed. "You think we always dress in green, do you not? No, no , we dress in whatever colour the forest is, and when it is night we wear dark purple, and at dusk we wear pink - see, camouflage. We'd show up awfully in green this time of year !" Lynnet started laughing and so did the pixy. "Do you think you're getting better? You look tonnes better than before. You were all white and you had big bags under your eyes! And how do you like your dress?" Lynnet looked down. She hadn't taken much notice of it , except to note it was 88 clean and felt nice. It was sunset colours, a pinky purple with streaks of blue. "It's great !" "I thought you'd like it ! I do, it's one of my sunset dresses, but I got Nopins to enlarge it ! Do you think you're well enough to go for a walk? I want to show you my house." Lynnet nodded. "I think so, or at least, I hope so !" She tried to get up and everything whirled, but when she tried again it stayed still. She nodded again. "Yes I can stand up." The pixy smiled and beckoned, then led her through a maze of tunnels. Then at a small little door she stopped, and threw it open. "My humble abode, isn't it nice !" And it was. There was a bright fire and autumn leaves hung up , ferns were hung up, and there was a carpet of pine leaves and heather. An owl flew down from a perch in the corner and landed on the pixy's shoulder. "She's gorgeous, isn't she! I've had her since she was just a little chick, haven't I , my little one! Oh, and her name's Alenna - miss mummy, did you pretty one?" She patted the bird affectionately and they went inside, and drew up chairs round the fire. "Come on, let's talk. Pixies are a dying race - " a note of sadness had crept into her voice - "But come on, tell me about yourself - I love talking, and there's no one to talk to here really, only the dwarfs, and they look on me as an amusing little pest. All my folks just seem to have disappeared." Again the wistfulness crept in, but she quickly went on, and soon one of the dwarfs had come in and ordered Lynnet to return. "Arletta, you naughty little girl , you've stolen our patient. Come, come, it's time you went to sleep again. Arletta, are you coming?" He spoke sternly , but it was easy to see that he wasn't cross. They went back to her bedroom and she was hustled into her bed again. "Sleep now. You may not think you need it, but you do. Arletta, you will sing her to sleep?" "Yes , I'll sing her to sleep." And she sang, she sang the forest, wild, free and beautiful, all was echoed in her voice, and Lynnet slowly fell asleep. 89 And that night she had the first of the dreams. The hands were reaching for her - "We want you, we want you, we want you, you're ours , you're ours," they yelled, and the hands their hands - they'd put her in the dungeon, Cheridee was crying, her face was red and white lines ran down her face, and her green eyes were bloodshot. And then she woke up and saw again Cheridee, crying and crying. She had to get back, oh her poor little darling. Why hadn't she left yesterday, oh the poor wee pet, and she had promised Marie she would look after her too, and here she was leaving her. She'd been free a whole day and night and she hadn't gone back. She got out of bed and was just about to change when the dwarfs and Arletta stepped in. "You're going now, aren't you, must you, please stay with me, please, please?" begged Arletta, running over and throwing her arms round Lynnet's neck, but Lynnet knew that Arletta already knew the answer. "No you can't ,can you, and I shouldn't be so mean and selfish as to want you to myself, but I'm so lonely sometimes. Here, have this, goodbye, goodbye.." Arletta kissed her on both cheeks and ran out of the room, crying . The dwarfs said goodbye then, and Lynnet kissed each one on their forehead before asking the way out. "Ye , we will show you. Come on." Sadly they led the way out, through the earthy passage ways and out through an old tree trunk. "Goodbye, goodbye, and tell Arletta I will come back whenever I can. And can you please tell me, DID you do something to me to make me forget about my folk? I promise I won't get cross." The dwarfs nodded, and looked sorry. "It was for Arletta, she was getting sick and faded, and we wanted you to recover fully before you returned. But if you are in trouble, twist the ring Arletta gave you three times and help will come. We must go, goodbye," and they went. Lynnet looked down at the ring. It was made of silver, and there was a intricate knot in it, and old magic, very very old magic, from the time before humans , when only elves and dwarfs existed. She slipped it on her finger and started running for the camp . 90 It was early morning and the wind was rushing past. To be out in the open, to feel the wind, she ran and ran. The sun was just rising over distant mountains as she burst into the camp. There were few people up, only the odd chicken or dog slinking round and a few women going out with buckets to get water. She ran straight to her caravan where Cheridee was sleeping, and she could see teardrops on the pillow and her eyes were red-rimmed. Lynnet caught her up and ran out into the open, and Cheridee, blinking , awoke. "Lynney." she cried, her face glowing with happiness. She flung her arms around her neck and Lynnet whirled her round and round then hugged her again. "You pleased to see Lynney again?" she asked the contented Cheridee, who was clinging tightly. "Very!" and it was then that everyone was starting to come out. They had heard Cheridee cry and had been gathering round already, and suddenly through the crowd came Cathal and she flung her arms around Lynnet. "Ohh, you're back , you're back, we've beenso worried, what happened?" she burst out in one sentence. Cheridee sadly started to get back down, but Lynnet held her tight and she smiled again. Finally when everyone had talked to her and asked what happened (except the Princess) Lynnet asked about Dommy , where was he? Oh he was - where was he - finally Cathal remembered, "Oh, he's waiting for you by the big tree, he said he'd talk to you after the horde had gone. Oh Lynnet , I'm glad to have you back !" she hugged Lynnet again and left. "You want to play with your friends for a while now. I promise I''ll take you for a big long walk when I get back, alright?" She hugged Cheridee again and put her down, watching her run off to her friends before leaving for the big tree. She was running and it didn't take long to reach the big tree where Dommy was waiting, and he looked nearly as bad as Lynnet had when she had just got out of the cave. He was staring at the snow beneath him, oblivious of anything else. "Dommy?" she called out. He didn't seem to hear her. She walked over to where he was standing. "Dommy?" This time 91 he swung round. his dark eyes flashing. "Lynnet, what in the heavens possesed you to leave like that! Didn't you think at all about us, about poor Cheridee, do you realise she has hardly eaten a thing since you left and that only when the Princess made her? and Cathal, Mickea, Nick and what about me? The whole camp's been looking for you from dusk to dawn." Suddenly his shoulders hunched and his eyes were despairing. "Lynney, what happened?" By now her own eyes were flashing. "If you must know I was kidnapped by Dwages, they made a trap in the snow and I fell through. But I hardly think that that's your concern, and if you really think that I would have left my little Cheridee at all, not to mention not telling her, then I think you don't know me very wel , and what's more I will never ever speak to you again. Goodbye" In an icy rage she stormed off . How dare he! "Lynnet, Lynnet, come back!" she heard him call, but there was no way she was going back. Did he really think her as cruel and heartless as that ? Well, it didn't matter what he thought. She was never speaking to him again, ever. When she got back to camp she found Cheridee waiting for her outside their caravan, and taking her hand, they started out for a walk in the forest. They talked about lots of things , and only once did they stop for a minute. "And Dommy was so kind to me while you were away , he gave me pretty flowers - see!" the childish voice prattled, and looked up expecting to see the familiar smile, but instead she saw a face as blank and cold as ice. Cheridee froze, froze into ice, but with wisdom far greater than her age she quickly went on, "And this morning I had a bully snowfight with Leon and Vira and ..." and when she looked up again Lynnet's face was smiling again as if nothing had happened. But never again did she mention Dommy's name, and neither did Lynnet. They found a snow rose after that, and they picked two flowers and put them in each other's hair, before laughing their way back to the camp. 92 She had a talk with Twiller and Mistlet, remembering what the Princess had said just before Lynnet had been kidnapped, and she could see that they had been hurt, though they tried not to show it, and she began thinking of a way to fix it. In the evening after she had tucked Cheridee into bed and sung her to sleep, she went in to the Princess, to talk and to explain. "Hello, your majesty , I have come as I was told." The Princess smiled. "Yes you have come as you were told, but sit down. We have things to talk about." The Princess patted a place for Lynnet at the end of her couch, where the Princess was elegantly lounging. Lynnet sat down. "Now to get on with it, I know all that has happened to yo , so do not tell m , but what is going to happen now - uh, uh, don't interrup , I know what happened with Dommy, and as much as I would like to, I won't say anything. I know because just about the whole camp has been here today, very secretly, to say that you were giving Dommy the silent treatment, but come, come, tell me what is on your mind." Lynnet sat staring at the carpet for a while then started talking in a great torrent of words. "It's Cheridee and my animals. I feel I don't spend enough time with them and they're getting all upset, and I really want to be a better mother to Cheridee, even if I am too young, but I feel so guilty about it, and poor little Cheridee......" The Princess smiled. "Yes, I thought so. I've been thinking about that, and what I think is that you should leave us for five years, just until Cheridee's eleven and you're nineteen, and then we'll come back for you again. Of course, I'll send my people to tell you all that is happening, and we will come and see you every year, but I think it will be best. When I looked in my bowl of speech, the gods agreed. There is a town near here that is the one for you, it has been said." Lynnet turned white. Leave the gypies, her lovely carefree life, her pretty caravan, Cathal, Nick, Mieka and everyone else, excepting one person whom she had blotted from her mind. But 93 when she thought about it, she saw that it would be best, and slowly and sadly, giving the Princess a kiss on her cheek, she left, and that night there were tears on her pillow . 94 CHAPTER 10 - YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD The next night was the night before the day they left. The whole camp gathered by the fireside to say goodbye, and sing. They sang every song they knew, and more they made up, and they danced and sang, and laughed, with tears in their eyes, a sort of bitter -sweet night, even the Princess was playing on her lute, and, once or twice, even got up to dance. Lynnet danced with everyone there, old and young, even a small six year old, until she saw Cheridee's cross glare and gave the young manikin to his rightful owner ! But still, it was awful when she had to dance with Dommy. Try dancing with someone you're pretending isn't there, and doesn't even exist. It's very difficult, but she couldn't not dance, it would be too obvious, and on her last night ....... She let it be and they danced, and after the first few attempts too start a converstion, too say he was sorry, Dommy gave up, in an anger as fierce as Lynnet's own. If she was going to be so unforgiving, well that was her problem, and they danced with a fire that made the elders wink until they thankfully twirled off to their next partners. And the fires twinkled, mainly red embers now, with small brave flames flaring up every so often . And the cold nights breeze wished its way through the camp, an owl hooted, and the stars twinkled down on the snow. In the stillness of the forest the laughter and music echoed, and everyone was red-cheeked and bright-eyed when at last they went to bed, though Lynnet had a slight gnawing, but from what, she did not know. In the stillness that night, there was more than one pillow drenched in tears. And Lynnet remembered the last song , "You take the high road , And I'll take the low road , And I'll be in Tamlan afore you." 95 Tamlan, the land of the gypsies, where the gypsies were heading, while she was only going to Firel, a town but two days walk from where they were, and it was true, she was taking the high road over the hill land, they were taking the low road to Tamlan. "And me and my true love, will never meet again by the bonny, bonny banks of loch Twilond" Slowly she fell asleep, to the sound of Cheridee's soft even breathing in the bunk across from her. And the next morning they parted, and she only glanced back twenty thousand times, and said absolutely last farewells forty thousand, but soon the gypsy band was no more than a few dots in the distance, and she had come to the end of the forest. And just as they reached the hills she thought she saw a glimpse of dark brown hair, and heard the whisper of the songs of the forest, but when she looked again, there was nothing in sight --------They reached the city the day after, and Lynnet gave Darlet the donkey a satisfied rub, and Twiller and Mistlet waved their tails happily, the dove cooed, Tally barked, and the monkey that the Princess had given them chittered. Cheridee only squeezed Lynnet's hand and gave a big grin. There was something about the Town that Lynnet remembered, but she couldn't quite remember. There was a castle in one corner, and she could see the spires of a temple. Then they entered the huge gates. Inside it was like every other city this side of the sea, friendly and cosy even if she did get the wary looks reserved for gypies, as well as an extra look up to the heavens for the menagerie. she wondered how they could tell she was a gypsy, but she didn't bother about that. Instead she asked someone the nearest marketplace. They needed to buy food, and Cheridee needed a new scarf, she had lost her old one somewhere on the way. 96 They had just finished getting everything they needed, when the monkey ran away, and hell broke loose. "Get that wretched thevin thing out o my store! No doubt trained t'steal like its mistress!" "Monkey, monkey, it will bite me! help,help!" One aristocratic lady cried while scrambling onto a stall table. The monkey, scared by all the noise, ran under the table, and Tally followed, and knocked over the table. The aristocratic lady landed in the dust in a pile of fish. By now all the 'posh' ladies were standing on the tables, and all the 'folk' were holding their sides and laughing, apart from the one irate one whose stallhad been knocked down. "I'll tell te lord, I will, I will an all!" she screeched crossly. Lynnet grabbed Cheridee's hand and clutching at the donkey , half ran, half walked to a clearing in the crowd where they could breathe. And just then a life saver appeared, a tall girl , with mousy hair the colour of Cheridees and blue eyes . She had the monkey under her cloak and Tally following her. "Here, your monkey escaped. I thought I better bring her back. My Granny had one before she left and I'm used to them, cute little beggers aren't they ! Come on, you look worn out , bring your horde and I'll take you to my room in the castle, it's small but it will do - I'm a kitchen-maid you see , and my name's Lalay, what's yours?" she chattered on as she led them towards the castle. "Lynnet, and this is Cheridee. Do you work in the castle?" "You bet your sweet life I do, me an fifty others work in the kitchen, real busy it is, how about you?" "Well, I was a gypsy but I've left for a while. I'm looking for a job at the moment." "What do you know! My friend Polly got a job in a pub, so there's a job going round. Come on, hurry up and I'll introduce you to the dragon, no don't look so scared, her bark's worse than her bite, come on." 97 Lalay grabbed her hand and started pulling her towards the castle, and laughing, Lynnet and Cheridee followed. 98 CHAPTER 11 - THE BATTLE The days settled into an even pattern after that for Lynett. Everyone would get up before dawn to the sound of the horn ringing through the air, get dressed, cursing everything under the sun(and over it) then run off to where their work was, the castle alive with the gentle patter of feet. It wouldn't do to wake the nobles, not at all, the lazy wretches. Then Lynett would take Cheridee to a frIend of Lalay's who had offered to look after her, then race back to the castle and the kitchen, which would already be busy and bustling, with fires burning in every corner, spits turning, peas being shelled, apples peeled, and cakes and bread being kneaded and stirred, a flurry of spice and sugar, with laughter and gossip everywhere. It was hard work though, because as well as the cooking there were dishes to be washed, floors to be scrubbed, benches to be wiped, water to be fetched, fires to be lit, wood to fetch, spits to turn, and you had to try and keep out of everyone else's way. Then at the end of the day, after the last of the cooking was done, it was finally time to sink gratefully into bed, leaving the dishes for those on night duty, thank the gods. Lynett and Cheridee's was small but cosy, one of the very smallest of the towers, it was round, with two tiny windows, high up in the wall, and a small fire. The door was small too, and Lynett had to bend down to get in, but for all that, by the time all the scarfs and ribbons had been hung up it looked `right homely' as Lalay said, and with the bright new quilts they had brought at the village market. Every week they had an afternoon off, and they'd go walking in the woods, laughing and chatting, running and dancing, taking a picnic with them, and once they went rowing on a lake nearby with two of the pages, Lalay, Lynett and Cheridee in one boat, and the pages in another, as they raced round the island in the middle and had water fights, until they accidently crashed, then tipped, and then the next second they were all in the water laughing. 99 It was on a breezy summer afternoon that Lynett met Arletta again. They had gone for a walk in the wood, and had been running after a woodlark as it glided and swooped between the trees, when suddenly above them they heard a tinkling of laughter, almost like singing, and looking up, sitting on a branch above them was Arletta, swinging her legs and grinning. "Hi!" She jumped down, catching Lynettte's outstretched hands, and Lynett whirled her round until her arms were too tired and they all sat down. "Arletta, Arletta, how gorgeous to see you. I kept hoping I would but - oh, Arletta, this is Lalay, and this is Cheridee, and Twiller and Mistlet. Everyone, this is Arletta, she looked after me when I was kidnapped by these things - oh and Arletta, how is everyone?" Lynett was talking so fast that no one could fit a word in but finally she stopped. "Lynett, I'm sorry, but something awful's happened. The wood folk are dying out. There was a sort of gas everywhere, and everyone kept fading and vanishing, oh it was awful." There was a catch in her voice, and Lalay put a friendly arm round her shoulders. "There there pet, it'll all come out in the wash, never you fear, come on, cheer up ducks !" There was a sort of sniffle, but the next time Arletta looked up she was grinning. "Anyway, I'll really like living close to you. I've never really had anyone my age to talk to before, and there's some nice little caves to live in." Cheridee, who had been looking solemn, smiled suddenly. "Arletta, Lalay's my aunty and Lynett's my mother, so will you be my big sister?" They all laughed, much to Cheridee's annoyment. She had just asked a simple question. "Of course she will," Lynett assured her, "Won't you Arletta?" Arletta nodded. "We're all your family. Come on, we'll swear it. Now stand round in a circle." Everyone stood round. 100 "We, eight." "Eight?" "Yes, us four, Twiller, Mistlet, Rara and Tally." "Faithfully, promise, that we will always be a family, and look after one another no matter what. We promise." "We promise." And suddenly a ray of sunshine came through the trees, and lit up the small group. "I've never had a real family before," Lalay said sadly. "We'll you've got one now. Come on, let's go." And they ran off further into the wood. The seasons passed, Autumn, and berry picking, purple stains and golden leaves, Winter and ice skating, faster and faster on the ice with softly falling snow, white covering everything like a blanket, cold icy morning and rosy cheeks, Spring and blossoms and courtship then Summer again, and around on the circle again. It was in the third summer that it happened, and what happened was beyond compare. A horn, deep and rich, breaking through all sleep. Lynett moaned and turned over. Surely it wasn't time to go down yet, and so cold it shouldn't be this cold, surely it shouldn't, why this was summer, wasn't it. She shivered as she got out of bed, and winced as her feet touched the freezing bluestone floor. She pulled a shawl round her shoulders, and standing on the oak chest of drawers in the corner, looked out of the window, and shuddered. Outside it was snowing, and foggy, as well as freezing, but this was summer wasn't it? She stepped down, and lit a candle from the dying fire, and as feeble flicker of light crept into the dark room, she woke Cheridee, and started to hunt out their winter clothes. Ten minutes later they were both dressed, Cheridee in thick tights, an even thicker dress of rose coloured wool and a black shawl of Lynett's wrapped round her so many times only her 101 nose was showing, and Lynett wearing nearly exactly the same, except in purple and scarlet. They hurried downstairs, hand in hand, to the courtyard, where horses where being rubbed, stores packed, and soldiers everywhere. What was happening? It wasn't, it couldn't be - around them everyone was running, faces taut and griefstricken - she caught at one of the pages as he hurried by, "Liam, Liam, what's happening, please, tell me what's happening," she begged. "Why did ye not know - the Lortans are attacking, and they say the Rinn himself is at their head," he gasped out before hurrying away. Lynett stood still, trying to let it sink in, but her mind wouldn't accept it. How could they come here, when she was so happy? But they could and were. The dragon, who wasn't really a dragon, came running up, and took her by the arm, "Lynney, help me, will ye. We need more people to go with the troops to help cook the food. Lalay's volunteered, so I thought you might like to too, please?" Lynett nodded absently before waking up suddenly. "Yes, yes, of course, but can I take Cheridee with me, please, please?" The un-dragon dragon was going to say certainly not, but changed her mind. "Yes dear, oh do be careful, oh dear, oh dear," she was still muttering as she waddled away. Lynett and Cheridee packed quickly, meeting Lalay in the misty courtyard. It must be the Rinn who had caused this awful fog - oooow- one day she'd get him back, one day. The trumpets were sounding again, the three girls were helped up into a cart, and with a clattering of hoofs and a blowing of horns they were away. The cart journey seemed to go on for ever as they huddled into furs that people had left for them, looking out at the moors around, so dark and scary, and this awful fog, it was like death itself, a dark, cold clammy grey, wet and as cold as ice. The cart jolted and rattled, and around them they could hear the footsteps of the soldiers, all perfectly in time, one two, one two, and all her friends among them, and before the day was out 102 they could all be - gone. She huddled further back into the cart, hugging Cheridee, an old wise Cheridee of seven, and a tear fell down her cheek. She had thought that at least nothing like what had happened to her would happen to Cheridee, and instead, she hugged her tighter, poor, poor little darling. Suddenly the cart jolted and stopped, and shaking, Lynett got out, followed by the other kitchen maids, and hunching their backs to the coldness, they helped to set up the camp. It wasn't quite dawn yet when all the kitchen staff where installed. They had three tents in all, one large one, the kitchen, and two small ones for sleeping in, right in the centre of the camp. Lynett was peeling carrots when the first call to battle came, and her fists clenched silently as she saw all the knights and soldiers go off. Some called off to say hello, a hello that was more like a goodbye, and Lynett and all the other girls there greeted them with a smile, giving them sweets and cakes, while pleading with them with their eyes to look after themselves as they teased and laughed, "And what's my little girl doing here?" one asked Cheridee. "I'm not yours, I'm not little, and I'm a lady not a girl!" she corrected him crossly stamping her foot while everyone laughed. "Touch�, touch�." He swept a bow, "My mistake milady. Would my grace allow me to take her scarf into battle, for good luck?" Cheridee smiled and curtsied, "Of course, and welcome." Gravely she undid her scarf and handed it to him. This was a suitable way of saying sorry, she considered, and simpered. 'My grace' indeed! And then the second horn sounded, the last horn, and it was time for the soldiers to go into the mist beyond. All the girls walked with them to the edge of the camp. This wasn't happening. It couldn't be. They waved goodbye. Any minute they'd wake up. And then all the men were out of sight, all of them, all their friends, some no older than fourteen, gone, gone, just like that into the fog, some never to come back. Hot trickles started to roll down cheeks, and were indignantly wiped away 103 on coarse sleeves, it was the snow of course - and then the screams and yells started, the screams of the dying, that pierced to the centre of the heart, like arrows, mortal, unhuman. There was no longer any pretence, but no more need for them to hide their tears either, the screams seemed to have turned all tears to blood, they were cut too deep for tears now, one by one they dropped down on their knees in prayer, Oh goddess, oh goddess, help us, help us help us, send us some sign, oh, send us a sign, oh goddess. A wind as harsh as knives came sweeping down on them, biting into their flesh, pulling at their dresses and hair, but not one of the kneeling figures noticed as they silently prayed. It was two hours later when the first of the survivors arrived, bloody and weary. The girls ran to meet them, and help them along, almost carrying them sometimes. But after a while, no more came. "Where are the others?" they'd ask, and it was always the same, they couldn't come. But they must! Lynett, Lalay, Cheridee and their friends, Lilly, Sara, Rolena, Doreen and Catrina, bent down to face the wind, and clutching their shawls as tight as they could, they hobbled along, stumbling over stones, as they went , silently, until at last they reached the battlefield, and stopped still. So many, everywhere was death and blood, wailing, moaning, blood, blood, she saw heads turn ever so slightly, people trying to crawl out of the big mire. Then they ran forward, kneeling at the side of the nearest living person they saw, and Lynett started using her magic, anything to get them to feel better, Twiller and Mistlet from a pouch on her waist told her off but she refused to listen. She knelt by a young boy's side, he looked the same age as her,fifteen, then she gasped. Liam, it was Liam, this white, blood-covered man the boy she had danced with only two days ago. No, she wouldn't believe it, she couldn't, it wasn't true, was it? She skimmed for magic and thrust it at him. Slowly he opened his eyes, and blinked. "Lynett, Lynett, I had the most 104 awful nightmare," he said weakly, "Promise you won't laugh if I tell you?" She choked. "I, I promise." "I dreamt there was a battle, and I had to fight, it was dreadful, Lynett, Lynett? You look, strange." He was gasping a little as he spoke, weakly, his eyes fixed on her face. She closed her eyes for a second before speaking, "Liam, Liam dear, it wasn't a dream." She opened her eyes again, and found he was still staring at her. "Liam, come on, come on, everything will be alright, we've just got to get you back to camp, alright, everything will be fine, just fine," she whispered. He looked so old, so old, and he was only fifteen, life isn't fair, it's not fair, her brain chanted, not fair, not fair, She helped him up, one arm round his waist, and started walking him back, until she met Lilly coming up the path with the cart, and gently put him in the cart, and went to help others. And so it went on, one day two days three days four days, on and on, she learnt every single person by name, and they her. She nursed the sick, read to them, wrote letters for them, even sang for them, and played chess with some. And some of them, just some of them, began to wonder who she was. No ordinary kitchen maid had a voice like a princess, nor were they able to read or write - and chess? Most of them hadn't even heard of the game, and the more they thought about it the more they wondered, especially two, Perion and Toren, who remembered a certain laughing young princess, who was always ready to talk or giggle or play games, as god as any boy they had thought, and a lot less fussy than the prince about clothes. That had been in the good old days, when the older prince was still there, Darlon, he'd been the best not a sissy like Tarlon. But was Lynett Tatslina? Was she? They started to watch her, listen to her, to see if she would ever slip, and ocasionally, just occasionally, it would seem like she did. "Perion, isn't this a dismal day, why, it's nearly as bad as that winter when was it, that one you broke your leg in, so foggy but never snowing," 105 "No it's not, that was a gorgeous winter, it snowed all the....." slowly Lynett trailed off as she found them staring at her, "I didn't think you were here then. Why, you only came two years ago, didn't you?" "Yes," she stammered, "But I heard about it from a friend." And that was her first mistake, and more followed. They were all just little mistakes but enough to add up, and at least they served one purpose, to keep the injured squire's minds off the battles still going outside. And they did still go on, every day, the screams, the blood, those who just vanished, those who died of their wounds, those who went crazy because they could no longer bear it, and all the time, it was the kitchen maids and cooks, whom none of the knights or squires had ever really noticed, who healed, and comforted, making them laugh if they were depressed, or talking soothingly if they were scared or upset, and breaking ever so gently the death of their friends, until everyone forgot they were servants, not to be spoken to, or noticed, and started treating them as friends, and one or two even got engaged. But outside the warm tents and camp, the mist was still there, and it seemed like a bad omen, and for the superstitious foot soldier, something like that meant that spirits were down in the dust. And still it went on, and every day the camp became emptier, and emptier, until one day the orders came, they were to retreat, silently in the middle of the night, and just try to defend the castle as well as they could. The tents were folded silently, with muttered curses, and hearts were low. Defeat, defeat, the word seemed to be beaten into the face of every man present, and even the sound of their feet on the old road sounded hollow and forlorn. Lynett glanced around, and slowly started to sing, softly at first, but then louder as more and more people joined in. She sang an old song, one that she hadn't heard for two years - You take the high road, 106 She remembered the last time she had heard it, when she was saying goodbye to the gypsies. Did she have any idea then that this would happen? No, and here it was. She tried to forget it. Her voice rose like a bird above the others, clear and pure, Cheridees and Lalays joined her, and then Lilly and Sarains, breaking completely the order of silence. One of the commanders swore, and started to ride on to correct them, but his friend laid a hand on his arm, shaking his head, "Don't. This is the best thing for them. I only wish I had had the idea myself," he said with an inborn wisdom. His friend nodded, he understood, and joined in. There was silence in the castle as the men came clattering back, the drawbridge sighing shut behind them, as they scurried to get the castle defenses in order. The oil was to be boiled, more arrows made, supplies taken in, and the whole village to come in and take shelter, bringing all the food that could be found. It would be a long and hard time, of that no one had any illusions. You could barely walk anywhere without bumping into people, and already three other people had moved into Lynett and Cheridee's room, and every night the Lortans attacked, with bloodcurling yells and shrieks, that made the children cry. Most of the Ladies of the castle had already been sent away, and of those that hadn't, most had locked themselves up in their rooms, only coming out to swoon on the nearest, richest knight, though others who did come out were worth their weight in gold as they helped with the children and even the cooking, and one or two even tried their archery out on the catwalks. And the weeks passed. How many days they had been under siege now no one could tell. Food was rationed , and work was hard, laughter was seldom heard, but crying was often, small red-faced children in black, hunched into corners out of the way, trying to understand that daddy was never coming back. Dogs barking at being so confined, chickens, goats and cows under foot, squawking and baahing, even pigs were seen to go scurrying around, though these were getting scarce. Dirt seemed to be everywhere, in hair, in the raggedy clothes, and 107 the mist creeping into everything like a bad dream, choking and dirty. How long could they go on, Lynett wondered as she paced the battlements, about to take her place with bow and arrow. She tried not to answer it, but the answer came anyway, not very long, and it was the truth. She gathered her black robe around her, hugging her shoulders. What could she do, oh by the gods, what could she do, someone, something, give her strength, oh by Twilea, oh help us. And for an instant the fog seemed to lift, and she could just see Twilea glimmering through it, and she took hope. The gods had not deserted them, not yet, and soon, soon, it would change for the better. It must. The next morning, when the castle was still after the tortured screams ands cries of the night, she at last dragged herself to her room to find Arletta sitting on the windowsill. She ran to her and hugged her, "Oh Arletta, Arletta, help us, please Arletta, please, I don't know what to do but I must do something." she cried. "Yes, and you shall, the goddess Twilea sent me. Ever since the battle started she has had her followers making you some armour, and finding you a horse. They'll appear, the next time you pray to the godess, tomorrow night,. Oh I wish I could do more to help, but what?" and Arletta was gone, but she had left the most important thing behind- hope. The next evening Lynett brought her sword with her, and looked down at the flame-throwing soldiers below, and began her prayer, Dear Twilea, Mother of love and beauty, by all that I love and honour, I ask that you come and help me, please, oh please. Oh mother, mother mother, mother. She bent down on her knees and prayed, her face to the foggy sky, her eyes closed, her hands clasped, and she felt the mist 108 turn to snow, soft and gentle, and a treacherous laugh, mocking and harsh. She felt a coating of metal form over her clothes, cold but comforting, and a helmet come down on her head. Slowly she stood, her head held high among the snowflakes, prepared to face whatever was to come. And then there was a horse beside her, but it wasn't a mortal horse. Its coat was shimmering white, its eyes as purple as night. It neighed softly, and she got on, she looked down at the figures below, running and scurrying, waiting, always waiting for any gap they could get through, and they knew they were winning. There was no possibility of the castle lasting much longer, well, there hadn't been before, but, now, now with the luck of the gods, perhaps - She took, one last look round and then, Jumped, high into the air, over the castle wall, her armour glistening in the moonlight, her hair streaming behind, her face a mask of silver which suddenly filled the sky, and down, down, down, and without knowing how, or why she was in front of the Rinn, her sword drawn. He was lying down on a couch of cushions and furs, his hands behind his neck, viewing her amusedly. "Ah, so you've come. I was wondering how long you'd take. You've been most annoying you know. If you hadn't been using so much magic I would have got through years ago. But never mind, you're here now, aren't you." He smiled, a twisted smile. "You knew I'd come?" "Of course I did. You're under the protection of the gods aren't you? And they wouldn't really let you starve without giving you a chance to fight back. But I might as well tell you now, to boost your morale that your chance of doing anything is nilch. Of course, you were a little lucky last time, but this time, well I'll crush you in the palm of my hand." "Stop dribbling. I don't believe a word you say, and how do you know you will?" she taunted. "I crushed your mother didn't I?" "You did not, you never!" she spat, this wasn't true. 109 "Oh I did. She thought she could change me. Once we were best friends, you know, best friends - but look at her, marrying that weak fool, in the middle of nowhere!" "My father was not a weak fool!" "Wasn't he?" The Rinn raised an eyebrow. "He wasn not!" Lynett spun across the room and slapped him, hard across the face, seeing a big red mark where her hand had been. The Rinn laughed and rubbed his cheek. "Temper." "Challenge." "You? Challenge me?" Yhe Rinn laughed again. "I did before, and what's more, I won!" "Oh my dear little girl, I let you win. You didn't win yourself." Laughter, laughter, it sounded like a donkey's braying and she wanted to put her hands up to her ears and block it out. "I still challenge." She stood with her head in the air, two feet from his couch. "Well," he drawled, "I might as well. It can do no harm, but let me tell you, even now, that whatever happens it's going to remain winter for the three months - if I win to show everyone a taste of what they're getting, and, if I lose, as a souvenir. But, I accept your challenge. On horse do you think?" She nodded. "A tournament in the sky, as you wish. I'll lend you a lance." She shook her head, and a silver-handed lance, engraved with shells and seaweed, appeared in her hand. "Ah, Cile. Nice of her. She never seemed to really like me for some odd reason. Strange isn't it." He clicked his fingers, and they were both in a clear, empty sky, with nothing below them, and nothing above them, but purple,in all different shades. And there was not a sound, not even a tiny rustle.. 110 And they stood still, Lynett on her star horse, and the Rinn on a black beast of evil, with flaming eyes and a browny smog around it. The Rinn held a large evil looking lance, black. Lynett shuddered. She didn't like this, where was she - what was she to do - oh help. "Charge!" The cry broke through the erie stillness. And he was coming for her, his lance pointed at her. She stood still, keeping the horse's reins tight. His eyes were wild, and there were taut lines all over his face, he looked like a demon, wild, out of control, but mocking , he was five feet away. She let go of the reigns, and her horse charged. She shut her eyes, her lance held tight in front, oh gods. She felt her lance push something, she felt something push her, and she was tumbling down, down down. She made a floating cloud quickly and drew her sword. The horse was already disappearing. Goodbye, she called, and it was gone. She held her sword in defence, looking round. Where was he? Where was he? She couldn't see a sign of life anywhere. "I'm here." She spun round. "No, here." "Here." "Here." "No, behind you." The voice was coming from everywhere. She spun round, then round again. "Stop it!" "She says to stop it." "She says!" The voice was laughing at her. She was silent, waiting for him to appear, and he did, right in front of her, slowly, shimmering at first, "We will fight." And they began. 111 It seemed like a nightmare, this desperate fight in this place of peace. She felt as if she was breaking some sacred vow to even make a noise here - but to fight . . Lunge, block, sweat, blood, red, tired, so tired, can't see, must win, death, dead, dying, must win, help, Dommy, NO she wasn't talking to Dommy, she was gasping for breath, her eyes couldn't focus, red, black, sweat was dripping down her forehead, her hair sticking in curls to her cheek, she was getting a stitch, but she must win, not just for her, but the castle, everyone, and for the dead, for those that would never come back. Lunge! She opened her eyes as she thrust her sword forward, and in. Blood, blood, spurting, and screaming, screaming, "There'll be a next time!" And she was whirling through whiteness, whirling, whirling,with snow flakes falling around her, settling in her hair and on her cheek as she flew through it, "Dommy." And then everything went black. 112 CHAPTER 12 - DOMMY White, white. Where was she? Was this death, a white nothingness, a swirling cold nothingness - no, it was snow. She could feel its icy cold against her cheeks as it ran round in huge swirls. She was lying on the ground, and she felt too heavy to move. Her armour that had seemed so light, now seemed to weigh far too much. She could barely lift her head, her hair was wet, and snow was piling up. Cheridee? always first on her mind she welcomed the warmth the memories gave her - the little snub nose and mousy hair, the page boy cut, the cute grin. Fire, why should she feel like she was on fire, when she was in the middle of a snow storm, one minute she was freezing, the next boiling, and so weak. What was wrong? And that awful man, The Rinn, once her mother's friend. She moaned and rolled over, she wanted to run away, but where to run? She wanted to pretend it wasn't true, but she had seen the truth, and truth it was. This must be her last chance. So many had been given her, but now she felt drained. Like after the fever, she had over-used her magic again. How could it keep coming up, twice, how could they, but who controlled it magic? She gave a giggle cough, what an awful thing to think of when she was dying, dying. Wait a minute, she wasn't dying. Why she didn't want to die now. She had a year ago, two years ago, but not now. She had a family, Cheridee,Twiller, Mistlet, Lalay, Arletta, Tally, Rara, she had a family now, and what about her friends, Sarain, Tor, Menin, Sarram, Mallie, Ivy. She tried to move again, but every move hurt. DOMMY But she brushed him from her thoughts. It was so cold, so lonely, and there was nothing, nothing but white. She creaked into sitting. Every movement killed, but she had to get back to the castle. Where was she? Where was she 113 going? Which way to go? She would not cry, she would not, would not, would .... Before she could, though, she fainted again. "Lynney, I want Lynney." She saw Cheridee crying in her room, pounding her bed. "Lynney, I want Lynney." There was a fire going, and it flickered on her face, and Cheridee was wearing the dress that Lynett had made for her, a tiny burgundy dress, embroidered with ribbons, and the tears ran down and down, and her body shook in silent sobs. Lynetts eyes flickered open, oh Cherri, it was so cold, poor Cherri. But how to get back? She had won hadn't she, so what was she doing lying here? She should be back celebrating with everyone else. Why, all the enemy had gone, fled, but how had she come down here? Why, why ? Then she remembered. When she had `magicked' them away, she had been flung - it seemed like across the world but she couldn't have been - flung, like a leaf in the wind, but it wasn't fair, wasn't fair, she'd won, totally and completely , so what was she doing lying here, with a fever, and no magic, or any idea of where she was. It wasn't fair. She tried again to get up, she hurt all over but she had to try, cross fingers that she didn't go in the wrong direction. She tried to stand up, but when she did the world went round, the snow turned black, and her leg, her leg, and the snow had gone black. It had spears in it, spears that weren't even there. DOMMY The next time she woke she had gone a whitey purple colour and she could barely feel her hands and legs. If she fainted again..... She rolled over and started crawling. Her stockings, thick though they were, were soaking and tore as she crawled along, a 114 centimeter at a time, and her limbs seemed so heavy. Even a millimeter seemed more than she could move. It was so heavy so hard, and she couldn't move, so floppy, she kept sinking down, scraping against the snow, her head, so dizzy, but she must go on, her face so sore and cold, and she could see the blood on her hands though she couldn't feel it, and on her knees. Where she went she left a trail of blood, but she must go on, her teeth were chattering, but slowly , oh so slowly, she crawled on, her hair whipped back behind her, and the wind tried to pull her back, blinding her, throwing harsh, gritty snow in her face, she must go on, she must she must, but she was losing strength, she must go on, she must, but she could barely go forward, she must go on, she must, but....... She was sinking, into a soft beautiful sleep, it was waiting there for her, waiting, a floating peace, no harsh snow, no pain, no blood, just floating, oh so tempting, how could she resist, if she just let go, she loosened her grip, if she just let go, if she just let gooooo.... her eyes were fluttering shut, she could close it all out, if she just let go. No! Cheridee, her family, life, beaches, sunset, if she just let go ... the wind in her hair, the moors, fires, dancing, but that was not now, now she could go off and float, and be peaceful, if she chose, not stay in this white hell. But life, iceskating, woods, singing, life, Cherri, she tightened her grasp, she would hold on, but the pain, if she just let go, she let a little out, her head dropped down, if she just let goo.... "Lynney, lynney, wake up, oh lynne,wake up," she could feel someone shaking her, and she wanted to go to sleep. "No, no, go away let me be, it's waiting for me, go away," she muttered. It was just out of her reach, she could see it, if she just stepped forward she'd be in it, and then she could sleep, so peaceful. "Lynne, Lynney wake up, wake up, you can't go, you can't!" She could feel she was being lifted, she felt warmth, strong arms, gripping her, it was so close, but if she just let go.... 115 "Lynett, Lynney, do you hear me wake up!" Why was this person annoying her? It was there, just in front of her. "Did you hear me, wake up!" She could hear torture in the voice, despair - how naughty of them, they should let her sleep. Whaak! She felt a stinging pain across her cheek, her eyes fluttered open, she saw a blurry figure, so blurry, how dare they slap her. She opened her eyes wider and tried to sit up, to see better, she calapsed, and fell and again she felt the warmth, holding her, she was so cold, where she had been going she wouldn't have been cold, bad naughty person. She opened her eyes again that had fluttered shut when she fell. She still only saw a blur, but she knew the voice, from - from where? Places flickered through her mind, the crowded castle, the inn, her palace, Tlearet, the boat, no, it was none of those, she let it go on, the gypsy camp, but who - Dommy? But she wasn't speaking to Dommy, he had said that she would go away and leave Alenna. She wasn't speaking to him. "Lynney, Lynney ?" she heard him say, his voice rough. She turned her head, and heard a chuckle. She blazed, but didn't. She would have slapped him but she couldn't, her arms were too weak. "Well you're the same old Lynett, aren't you! Some things never change." She was being gathered up, and she hadn't the strength to refuse. Like a sack of potatoes, it wasn't fair, she couldn't even give him a good satisfying kick, what was he doing here, poking his nose in her business. A small part of her said, Saving her life, but she pushed it back. It was easier to stay mad, even if the only way she could show it was by blazing eyes. She sat as upright as her departed strength would let her, if she had to be carried like a baby, well, it wasn't her fault. But humiliation, to be carried, by a person she wasn't speaking to, and would never again, it wasn't fair, and she couldn't say, put me down this instant, because she wasn't speaking, and she couldn't kick or punch him because she had no strength, in fact, just not sopping down took all her strength, 116 just keeping her head upright suddenly broken. Her line of thought was "Hey, this is getting boring. Aren't you going to even talk to me? You may not realize this but I happen to be saving your life, and I think the least you can do is talk to me," Dommy broke in. She pursed her lips, no, she was not going to talk to him. Anyway, he had probably been sent down by the Princess. Dommy sighed and chuckled again, "Oh well, I wasn't expecting miracles." If only they were talking, she had heard some great new jokes at the castle. She banished the thought from her mind, she was not going to speak to Dommy, now or ever, actually make that she was not going to speak to Domhnall, now or ever, it sounded so much more formal, not so much like he was a friend. She could hear them plodding on, against the snow and wind, slowly, but surely, and a lot faster than she had done when she was crawling. Her eyes were shut. When she opened them there was only white snow and a blur that was Dommy, no that was Domhnall, if she knew his surname she could think of him as that, but she didn't so Domhnall would have to do. She was warmer now, and sleepy. Domhnall had wrapped her in a blanket he had in a bag on his back, and taken off her helmet, and it would be so easy just to fall asleep, but if she did that she'd be leaning against him, in a way that would suggest anything but that they were worst enemies, so she tried her best to keep awake, jolting herself every time she felt herself falling asleep, but it kept coming. She opened her eyes and looked up, at first she could still only see a blur of colour, but after a while it calmed down and it was Dommy she was seeing, it was nearly impossible to think of him as Domhnall, and he was nearly exactly the same as before, bigger stronger, but still Dommy. There were a million questions she wanted to ask him but if she wasn't speaking to him how could she. How was Cathal? How was the princess? What about Rara's monkey friends? Had anyone joined their group to replace her? 117 Somehow she hoped not, it was her place, hers and hers alone. Looking up, she saw Domhnall looking down at her, and she knew he knew what she wanted to ask him, but she also knew by that merry gleam in his eye he wasn't going to tell her, rat. As soon as she thought that she knew that he had seen it, he was laughing. This was unfair war, it wasn't fair, no fair, no game. He looked down again and laughed louder. She scowled, she sat up as straight and dignified as she could, not much, since when you're being carried it's hard to sit up straight, you've got to have a curved back, and already it was hard to hold her head up, you had to either drop it back or lean it to the side to be comfortable, and if you dropped it back it wasn't that comfortable either. She concentrated on holding her head up, but slowly her eyelids fluttered and drooped, and in five minutes she was leaning her cheek against Dommy's chest, asleep, and looking more like a baby than she had imagined. Domhnall merely smiled and went on walking. When Lynett finally awoke, they were just going into a cottage, and she could hear his heart beating as her cheek lay against his chest. She jolted, she had fallen asleep, and, by doing so, done the thing she had tried not to do- why anyone might think.........Anyway, she had made an absolute fool of herself, how silly can you get, all that trouble then to fall asleep like a, like a, she had it, like an idiot. It wasn't fair, in fact, it was almost enough to make her cry after all of this. She hadn't cried at all when she knew she was going to die, and then this? Crying just because she had made a fool of herself, well no denying it, even she didn't understand herself. Her lip started to tremble, then at the last minute Dommy looked down and she quickly bit her lip and looked even downer. She already looked a fool, there was no need to double that. Dommy carried her in and put her down in a cushioncovered rocking chair. Even though she tried not to notice, it wasn't quite as comfortable, or as warm as being carried. There was a fireplace in front of her but it wasn't lit, and though Dommy fixed it a little he didn't light it. Well, so what, if he was going to be a mean, idotic no good stinking dirty pig well that 118 was his fault, of course it didn't matter a bit that she was freezing, did it. "No Lynett, I may be many things but I am not an idiotic no good dirty stinking pig," Dommy said laughing again. If he laughed once more, she personally would murder him. But at least he had forgotten one word - tiny victory. "Oh sorry, forgot a word did I? You must excuse me of course," he mocked. If only she was talking to him she'd yell his head off. "I'm mean too, aren't I?" He was kneeling at her feet now taking off her soaking boots. "Well you might not know it, but when you're half frozen you aren't suppose to play in front of fires and heat. The change might make your toes and fingers fall off." He was rubbing her feet now, and she didn't believe a word he said. "Yes, yes, I know you don't believe me but it's a fact ,honour truth." She could feel things now, and what she felt was sore, pain, as in P-A-I-N, it killed , and she would have been wincing but..... There seemed to be an awful lot of buts ...... nowadays. Next it was her hands, and they hurt worse, it was like lots of nails being thrown in, and then, only then did Dommy light the fire, and leaving Lynett to watch it's wonderful dancing flames Dommy went off to get the tea and some more blankets. She looked around the cottage. It was small and cosy, with bright cheerful rugs on the floor, and merry cushions. She could see three doors leading off, and she guessed that that was all there was. But even with the blankets and cushions, hot food and fire, she still felt cold, and it seemed like she could never stop feeling cold. It had got under her skin. She felt so frozen she thought might never unfreeze. She shivered. The tea was simple, toast and meat cooked over the fire, as well as milk and sugar and cinnamon, and then Lynett discovered the most embarrasing thing. She couldn't hold the food. It was to hard for her hands, after just being frozen. She, who could beat an entire army, couldn't even eat her own food, and he had to feed her. She was practically crying inside and 119 for the millionth time her brain came up with a message, life isn't fair. The meat was too hard for her, but she had the sweet milk, and toast dripping with butter with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on it. If there was one thing Dommy knew what to do it was cook. "Thank you for the compliment!" he said gravely. Once more, once more and she'd scream, and why on earth could he read what she was thinking now. He hadn't been able to before. "Well I could have if I wanted to, but it does happen that you were talking to me back then and you aren't now, so there you are." he said. Atually, wait a minute, did he say, it, did he say it out loud, or did he just think-say it. Had he said anything out loud? "No I didn't say it out loud, but I do say most things out loud." This was not, not, not nice, and she scowled. "No, I'm not nice, am I, and it must be after being a bit of a jolt on your not speaking to me, must it not !" It did, and she was furious. Too late she remembered that Dommy could read her thoughts. He laughed again. "You do be having a hard time. I would promise not to, but it would be after being rather boring, do you not think?" He had a point, and what was the point of not speaking to him when he could read her thoughts. Pride she supposed. Anyway, she didn't want him to read them, what she wanted to do was get warm. She was still freezing, and so cold it was like a piercing ache. As soon as she thought that, Dommy looked worried. "I am sorry Lynney, but it is going to take a while to recover from that. It always does, and it will be even longer before you can move or walk by yourself. I am sorry but that's how it is. For now though I suppose the most I can do is get you into something warm, though the gods know how I am going to do it, because I 120 can't, and there's no woman around who can so ....." Lynett jumped at that. She wouldn't have to wear wet, dirty clothes for ages, would she. But the alternative was even worse, actually far, far worse. "Mmm, things do look pretty grim, they do and all." Dommy agreed. "I don't have any more ideas than you, but I suppose all things are possible." So what now? she asked herself, or rather Dommy through her self, though she didn't mean to, and Dommy didn't even seem to notice the mistake she'd made. "What now? Good question. Well, this cottage is after belonged to a farmer and his wife, so it's got the wife's clothes in it. If you could be managing to get into a petticoat, I could be helping you with the rest?" he suggested cautiously. Whaaa, when this was over she would never depend on any one in her life. "I bet you will not be, and you detest it now too, do you not! Oh well, come on. I'll take you to the bedroom, and you can try to struggle with the petticoat while I go out and milk the cow they've got out there. The snow still hasn't stopped, and this is Summer!" He picked her up again and carried her through, then set her on the bed while he went to the cupboard to pick something for her to wear. She could see a thick dark green thing, with no shape at all, and a aqua blue one. She started praying, forgetting again, Not the green one, not the green one. He chose the green one, and put it and a gigantic petticoat on the bed beside her, just in hands reach, and left. Lynett sighed, this was going to be torture. But she was somehow wearing both the petticoat and dress when he came back. Even she didn't know how she'd managed. She was still cold though. Nothing seemed to be able to take it away, and it seemed to come from the inside, and go out. She couldn't stop shivering. It went in cold chills down her back. He had moved her back to the fire, and wrapped her in nearly 121 every blanket in the house. "A bit of a waste for you to die of pneumonia after all this." And still she shivered. She couldn't even curl up as she wanted to. She seemed so sore and painfully tingly. Oh it wasn't fair, so many times she had said that, thought that. Oh well, she'd promise herself not to say it, or think it again. Sometimes she found herself flopping over, on to her knees, and she could do nothing, not even break the fall, and she had to wait there like that till Dommy came back, normally not long, but far too long as far as she was concerned. It wasn't nice getting a sore nose on top of everything. She had just fallen on to her nose again, for about the twentieth time, when Dommy came in again. "You're having a spot of bad luck are you not. This must be let us see, the seventeenth time you do be falling, nearly a record, do you not be thinking?" he said cheerfully. Must he rub it in? "Well, I am not being too sure. Do you know, I think your nose is starting to curve up more! Ah I'm a pig am I? Well, that could easily stand for, mm -Perfect, Intelligent, Gypsy. See, I think I ought to be thanking you for the compliment!" Why did she have to be stuck up in here with a lunatic, he was worse than Twiller and Mistlet, Twiller and Mistlet - Oh, help, what about Cheridee, she'd be in hysterics, absolute hysterics, she must get back, and quick, the poor wee thing, and Lalay too, they'd all think she was dead, she must get back, and today, fast. "Aye I am a bit of a madman, am I not." Dommy agreed, but suddenly his voice grew sympathetic. "And no, you canny be getting back to the castle yet. It's nigh on impossible through this storm. If you went out in it again, it would freeze you to death. I'm sorry, really I am. Actually do you ken anything about this Winter cum Summer thing? I've got no idea." Yes she did have, she remembered. It was to be Winter for another three seasons, and stop with the natural winter, as the Rinn said. Somehing to show his power if he won and something to remember him by if he lost. 122 "Ah, so I'm thanking you for - just a minute - you didn't tell me did you, it was after popping into your head. Now I do be stuck. Well, thank you for thinking it, always the gentleman." He bowed, and she nearly forgot and laughed, just nearly though, and she had hidden it in the brief time it took him to stand up. Outside she could hear the wind howling, around the cracks, trying to get in, a very different wind from her friendly wind, mabey it was lonely. She stared into the fire. How alive it was, sort of like Cheridee. Oh, her poor little darling, she must be so worried. "Lynett, there is nothing you can be doing about it. It's impossible to get back. I see she means a lot to you and if I could get you back I would, but you cannot be getting back. Try not to think about it." Dommy's voice broke in, and again she felt angry. She didn't like how he was always there, and knew what she was thinking. He could have the decency to give her some privacy. "Yes, I know I could, but it would be deadly boring for me, would it not, and most likely for you too, so is it not easier this way? And besides, how could I be knowing when you're cold or hungry or what you want if I canny read your mind, seeing that you aren't being in the way of speaking to me!" Lynett groaned inside. He did have a point, but. . . "Yes, I know how you feel, but can't be helped. Come on, I'll put you to bed." He picked her up and carried her through, then tucked her under the blankets, and she felt so helpless again. Now she knew how babies felt. Awful. He blew the candle out and left, and she had a vaugue worry, seeing she had all the blankets. Wouldn't he be cold? With her she had a feeling nothing would make her warm, but just because she was cold was no reason he should be. "Thanks for the concern, seeing that you're not speaking, it's nice of you, but don't worry I'll be fine." The call sounded like a long way away and she writhed inside. Long distance thought reading. Blahh. 123 But soon thoughts of the castle intruded. Dancing in the kitchen, boating, playing with Arletta, Lalay and Cheridee, in the twilight, in the morning. And Cheridee. The others would be upset, and cry, but it was Cheridee, just gathering the shattered pieces she had finaly started putting together, that Lynett worried about, and she missed the gentle breathing near her, and being able to look across and see that she was alright. Cheridee, Cheridee. When she slept she had a dream. She saw Cheridee, as she had in the first dream, sobbing on her bed, in the same red dress, but suddenly she looked up, her face still red and tearstained, but glowing, and her eyes bright, "I know," was all she said, and smiled. Lynett woke up too, and smiled. She didn't know how but somehow, someone had told Cheridee that everything was alright, and that she was safe. Lynett listened to the wind, as it tossed and turned the snow, and slowly fell asleep again. But her second dream was not as nice . The hands had come back, they were reaching for her. "We want you, we want you, you're ours, you belong to us, ours, ours." The horrible hairy hands, coming towards her, everything was confusing, she was dying in the snow, it was twirling round and round, she saw her friends, all in black, and the hands were reaching for her, they turned to slime, to blood, the faces were staring at her, "She's ours ours, ours" if they touched her.. And then they turned to the Rinn, he was walking towards her, and behind him was a pile of bloody corpses, all her friends who had died fighting, he was closer closer, he flung his cape around him. "You have not won, you can never win, never, you are weak, too weak, you will die, your friends too," he was sneering, "Yes, you will die, die, die," he was shouting, and she could see the evil in his eyes. "I will destroy the world, the universe, if I have to, but you will die, after you have seen your friends die, slowly. You know you have not won, you cannot 124 win," he sneered, cruel, bitter, hated. His eyes, they were following her, if she met them, evil, blood, dead, it was coming after her, it would get her, the darkness, it would get her. She was crying sobbing, and awake. It would get her, would eat her, and she was terrified. She could feel it wracking her freezing body. Terror, and the dark, it was around her, it would get her, and take her away, she would become cruel and evil like him. The sobs were choking her thin body and she felt colder than before, then suddenly so hot she couldn't breathe, and she was coughing and crying, and choking . "Lynney, Lynney, Lynney, there, there, you're all right. I'm here, I won't let it get you, I promise. Calm down, there, there pet." "Dommy, Dommy, it's going to gget me the dddarkness, and the th- th -things, and there all dead, and they wa - wanted me to help the - the -them and I - I - I cou- c - couldn't , a - an andd, he's coming aaafter mmme, and he'lll kkkkill us all ." she sobbed, still choking in a river of tears and sobs. "Don't you be worrying, I won't let him get you. There there, I know." He was kneeling beside her, with a candle, and she looked at its light. "Fire, it's so hard to get warm," she said. He had an arm around her shoulders, to support her so she would stop chokin , and he wiped away the tears with the other. Slowly she stopped sobbing , and only the tears ran down her cheeks, in little rivulets, "Come on, I'm after taking you through to the fire. It will be lighter and warmer there, and I'll be making us a wee snack." He wrapped her in blankets again, and this time when he picked her up, she didn't even bother to try to sit with dignity. She just collapsed on his chest. She felt so loose and empty. She was on the rocking chair again, staring at the fire, and it must have been the early hours of the morning. The fire was only red embers, but Dommy relit it and it danced up again, darting out at her, almost as if it knew she needed to be warmed, but even the fire's consideration couldn't warm her, though she smiled at it in delight . 125 Dommy went out and came back with some hot milk, and with sore, trembling hands she sipped it slowly. "Dommy, I'm sorry. I've been such a fool, and a pest. I didn't mean it, but I was so scared. I didn't mean to wake you, or annoy you, and you needn't have come," she apologised, humbly, eyes downcast. "Don't worry. Me, leave a damsel in distress - never, my fair lady. Anyway, you are still speaking to me, aren't you? It's not a temporary thing, is it? You're not about to stop speaking to me any minute, are you?" he questioned. Lynett laughed. "No, don't worry, you know I'm not. Now that I've talked to you, I'm not going to stop. Besides the fact that if I do, you'll go back to reading my mind, and choosing dresses I don't like, thank you very much." Dommy laughed. "Yes, you were fairly blazing fire when I gave you the wrong dress, even worse than when I stepped on your favorite one that time, do you remember?" "Do I remember! That was my favorite dress, thankyou very much again, and your big clumsy boots put a big hole in it!" There was a silence for awhile. "Dommy , why did you say that you thought I'd gone off and left you? You knew I couldn't without Cheridee. I promise I won't get angry. It's not worth it!" "Well to tell you the truth, it was the simple reason that I was so worried. I was pretty sure that some underground thing had got you, but I knew what happened to people who get taken, so I tried not to believe it. And though I knew somewhere that you had, I tried not - I tried to think that you had just got lost or gone away, though all the time I knew. But when you at last came back, I was just so relieved to see you back that I just let it all out, that's all." he said slowly . "And that's what I got so foolish over. I suppose it's my fault as much as yours, because I should have come back the day before - but I was with the dwarfs and Arletta - and I felt so 126 guilty - though they had put a drug or something on me, so I'd rest or something." "And that's what we made such fools of ourselves over?" Dommy questioned. Lynett nodded, "I can't believe it, can you?" "NO, but come on. It's over now, and we've got at least two weeks to talk to make up for it, mabey longer, with all the snow." Lynett laughed. "We do. Come on, can I have another glass of cinnamon milk?" 127 CHAPTER 13. ARE YOU REALLY? They talked and talked. Dommy got some wood and started carving, but Lynett, seeing she couldn't move, didn't do anything. Sshe just sat there. After the first awful homesick doubt, she began to feel free, away from all her duties, almost like before she had ever come into responsibility - and she realised what it did mean to have Cheridee, though she would never give her up. But she liked her freedom, in an odd way, and it seemed the will of the goddess, so she just let it wash over her, only forgetting at night, and then she'd start worrying. Two weeks passed, and they talked and worked. Lynett felt her strength gathering, and soon she could move her arms, though she couldn't walk. Though every morning she tried, she usually ended up dropping down, and it was as if she had never learnt. She reminded herself of the toddlers she had seen trying, as she'd grasp on to something and try to work her way around it. She was lucky that last time she had been in the city of the gods and they had been able to heal it while she was asleep, almost. She was on the floor again, after another fall, glaring at the floor. It was all its fault. If it wasn't so hard she wouldn't be hurt, rotten thing, She heard laughter above her and looked up. "Lynney, you look like my sister did when she was just about to throw a tantrum, and of all things, to blame your over using of your magic on the floor! You're acting like a two year old, do you know that?" That annoying laughter. She swapped her glare from the floor to him. "Well, thank you very much, for the THIRD time, and didn't you promise not to read my mind again!" "Oh poor little girly, but you're right and I am sorry." He started to sound serious but burst into gales of laughter again. "I just slipped into it, but oh gods, you look funny . To see the face of a two-year on one so old. Okay , okay, no need to try and wither me away. Are you still speaking to me?" 128 "Oh, alright. I will, but why do you keep going in, and seeing what I'm thinking? It's not right. Why do you do it? I don't go into your mind, do I?" she cried out crossly, reaching out her arms so he could help her up. "I'm sorry, but it seems so right for me. I just do it without thinking. I do try not to, but it seems to me just like looking out a window. You know that when you look towards a window you see out. Well, thats what it's like with me. I'm sorry." he apologised, Lynett grumpily nodded. "Just one thing. How come you came when I was dying?" "You called me." ********************************** They were going back now, and it was still snowing. Lynett was stumbling through the snow. Dommy had been going to carry her, but Lynett didn't like the thought of being even more dependent, and though they had had a half argument over it, Lynett had won. But she was still weak, and after only 10 minutes she began to get tired, and not just tired, tired to drop. It still tired her even to walk , but she would not give in. She stumbled on, following Dommy who kept looking back anxiously, as her cheeks reddened and her eyes glazed. Anyone could see she was going to collapse soon, and he also knew, from one quick peep in her mind, that she wasn't going to give up, whatever it meant. After twenty minutes she was wavering, and Dommy decided it was time to act. Her magic wasn't strong yet, in fact it was weak, and his was strong. With a few swift words she fell. "You pig. You never said you knew magic," she murmured as she fell asleep. "There are a lot of things you don't know." He continued on, carrying Lynett. When she woke she was back at the castle. She was just being put in a coracle to cross the moat, and on the other side 129 were Cheridee and Lalay. Dommy was wrapping a cloak round her. Ee smiled once, she smiled in return, and he was gone. She was speeding across the water by some mysterious force. She caught one last glimpse of him, and then she was on the other side, hugging Cheri and Lalay. "Cheridee, my little one, you missed me?" she asked, down on her knees, hugging her. "Yes, yes, I did, but I knew you were safe. I saw you," Cheridee purred. They went inside to the kitchen. "Lynett! Lynett, where on earth had you been? We all thought you were dead. The way that horse disappeared with you, we thought that fiend had kidnapped you. We thought he'd mistaken you for lady Lera, you do look awfully alike. And then that snowstorm, and they were all gone. Oh it was awful, and this snow still hasn't gone," the undragon dragon babbled, hugging her. The others crowded round, laughing and joking. "How we missed you!" "It's been so awful!" "And Paula left, and Beatty's got a new beau and. . ." They got away eventually, and Lalay got the rest of the day off - on the principle of You take it now, it's deducted from the next time it's your free day. They ran up to their turret, and threw themselves down on the soft beds, sinking in. Lynett lay on her back and laughed. "Isn't it great to be back!" Lalay bent down to light the fire. "With all the awful toiling work?" she teased. "With all the awful toiling work !" Lynett laughed. Cheridee lay down beside her as she stared at the old beams in the ceiling, sniffing in the familiar smells and feelings. It was almost as if the whole war and everything had never happened, but then she noticed how thin they all were. Cheridee's cheeks were still chubby, but she was so thin, and so was Lalay. "Hey , whats wrong? You're all so thin. Why?" 130 Lalay looked upset. "Oh, you don't know yet? It's because of the winter. A lot of the food hasn't been gathered , and everyone's starving. It's so awful, but come on, did you hear how. . ." She rattled on and on, obviously thinking that Lynne shouldn't be bothered by such things so soon after she got home. The days went quickly after that, and soon it seemed that the fighting had been completely forgotten, except for the crying in the night, or sudden sadnesses that sometimes hit someone, and they'd quickly go to the privacy of the store room for awhile. There was little food, but people drank milk and wine, which was still easy to get, and every one kept up the front. Lynett and Lalay were peeling potatoes one day, about two months after Lynett's return. Lynett had nearly forgotten everything that had happened to her. Except for memories of the Gypsies and the cottage, everything else seemed like a dream. "Lynett, Lalay, quick, help! Can you and Gornla go and give the gallery floor a quick scrub. The steward told me that it had to be done quickly because there's an embassy from Moram and everyone else is busy. You don't mind do you? Here's the things you'll need. The undraggon draggon smiled at them thankfully , and handed them a bucket of soapy water. "Gornla will be up in a minute, she's just doing some dried peas. Thanks again." They nodded, and taking the things went up to the gallery, forbidden territory for kitchen maids, and though Lalay tiptoed in, afraid of the impressive marble floor and marvellous tapestries and paintings, Lynett went in with her head held up. She had been in here before, as an honoured guest, and though she didn't feel too comfortable, something in her stirred, reminded her of when she had danced through here, not even noticing the finery, her velvet dress and silken petticoats brushing softly against her skin. A strange thing that here she was about to scrub its floors, and in a rough wool dress too. And then when she was in the middle of the room she caught sight of it out of the corner of her eye, and turned round. There were five pictures of her, some with Tarlon and his brother, who 131 had disappeared just the year after she had visited, two with her parents, and two of her by herself. She gasped. That was her but it wasn't her, that was , oh what was it - and to see her parents again, so large and clear, instead of on the small pearls. There she was in her favorite dresses - it was awful how she missed the lovely materials. And her mother, her father. Had it really only been three years? In such a short time how could things change - from a princess to a kitchen maid! but she wanted to fling herself at the pictures, to be enveloped in them, to go back, to go where her parents were. "Lynett, Lynett, are you alright? Lynney?" Lalay asked worriedly. You've gone all white. "Yes, your mouth is dropping open like a fish!" She heard a tinkling but harsh laughter and knew that Gornla was there. "Lynett, don't you know who that is , that's the royal family of Cilia, the ones that were . . . ." Lynett was glad she trailed off. "Actually the Princess looks a lot like you. Very like you. Strange how I never noticed it before," Lalay puzzled. Lynett in a strange way felt like bursting out laughing. She look like herself? Well, what next? "Oh don't be silly. How could a gypsy look like the princess? I've never heard of anything so daft. Why , you could tell immedately when you saw her that she was someone. I've seen her !" boasted Gornla. Lynett wanted to burst with laughter again, to scream out, "Well, I am her." Gornla boasting that she knew her, to spite her. "Yes, and everyone had to wear black or grey for a year when we heard. It had been over for a while when you came, but of course no one minded. Just a minute ,I've got to go and get an apron." Gornla did her famous disappearing act. "Don't worry about her. I don't mind you're a gypsy. In fact, it was said that Tatslina's great grandmother is the gypsy Princess. All very complicated. You see, the Princess had a daughter who married the Earl of Emory, who had two beautiful daughters, our Queen and the Queen of Cilia. See, so even nobility has some gypsy blood, the spitefull minx!" Lalay 132 directed the last remark to the door Gornla had just gone out of, and when she turned round she was amazed to see Lynett doubled over, and making the most peculiar sounds that seemed to echo around the large room, "I told you, Lynett, it doesn't matter if you're a gypsy. You might even be related to Tatslina herself." Lalay tried to comfort. The strange sounds only increased and Lynett's shoulders started to shake more. "Lynett, Lynett, I thought you had more sense. Please, stop it," she begged. Lynett looked up. "Oh you idiot. You've been laughing all the time, and I don't see anything funny about it. I was really worried!" She was angry now and Lynett just couldn't stop laughing, so she just giggled out, "Oh (giggle giggle) don't worry about me , (giggle giggle) just put it down to the fact I'm crazy." She went on laughing, and Lalay got crosser and crosser. She stood up and put her hands on her hips, forgetting the fact that they were all greasy and soapy, and stalked over to the paintings. There must be a key to this if she thought hard enough. It wasn't like Lynett to burst off into gales of laughter like this. She was staring at the portrait of the Princess, who even in a painting had the air of a pixy, beauty-loving but michevous, like Lynett, and the laughing eyes, so merry and alive, a greenish-blue colour, like Lynett's. She could feel a tingling now - she wouldn't, couldn't believe it but . . . She looked down, and there was the final truth, the necklace around the delicate neck, a silver chain with three pearls, two small, one big. She tried to talk some sense into herself. There must be some logic in this, there must be, but everything pointed to - . She felt something bubbling in her throat - her friend, her sister - but she didn't understand, she couldn't yet She ran over to Lynett and started shaking her shoulders, hard. "You are, aren't you, you really are, and you didn't tell me you are!" 133 "Hey, stop choking me," Lynett coughed. She stopped laughing, "And yes, I was , but I'm not, never again. I'm going to be a kitchen maid for the rest of my life, well, at least until I'm old enough to raise an army to fight the Lortans - but I won't govern it, I'll only free it, and then Cheridee and I will become gypsies again - or minstrels - I'm not sure - something we can travel in. Will you join us?" "Of course I will, if you want me to, umm - your highness, Lynett Tatslina?" Lalay asked hesitantly. Lynett laughed again. "Don't worry. I'm Lynett - but if you give me away - " She paused for effect - "I'll make you come with me to the land of choking corsets and deadly boring conversations, by royal decree - of -" She paused again for affect. "The royal gypsy girl, kitchen maid!" They both started laughing again, but suddenly Lalay stopped. Here was she, laughing with the princess, while scrubbing the royal galleries with her hands all soapy. Lynett had stopped laughing the second after her, "Don't, please don't!" she cried and her eyes started to go misty. "Just pretend nothing happened. Oh why was I such a fool," she moaned. "I'm sorry, it's just that, well, I don't know, oh help, I never thought that I'd ever know a princess, oh help , help help," Lalay burst out. Lynett smiled in a rueful kind of way. "Yes, it would be hard, but please, I'm not any different from what I was before, so just forget it," she asked, and Lalay could hear the pleading in her voice. "Yes I will, but, Lynne, Lynne, I just remembered something. ust after you'd - gone - disappeared, I heard Perion and Toren talking. They were talking about you, as the princess, and they were saying, that they really thought it was her, but they meant you as in Tatslina not as in Lynne, Lynne, so I didn't take any notice. What are we going to do?" Lalay gasped. Her face had turned white, but Lynett's turned an off-green. "You didn't - you didn't- just say you didn't," she was choking on the words, and now she was shaking Lalay, the 134 bucket had been knocked over, and it was getting their skirts wet, but neither noticed. They knelt there, not moving, like marble figures, and both tried to take it, if it did come out, then, they'd either have to move, or change completely. Then Lynett laughed, a soft, harsh laugh. "Oh, aren't we fools, who on earth would guess that a kitchenmaid was a princess. Even if they suspected, it sounds too fake, like one of those fairy stories. We were silly even to worry about it. Anyway, I'll try some magic on them. It runs strong in my family, don't worry." Both of then let out all their breath, and Lalay groaned, "You were right, we are fools. Look, now our royal gowns are all wet, and I always hate it when my dress gets wet." "So do I, it always clings. Come on, we've got the floor to clean." They cleaned it, and well, too well. That evening it was so shiny that everyone was slipping on it, but Lynett, Lalay and Cheridee were iceskating on the moat outside and couldn't care less, or could they. Lynett's brain kept turning round and round. It would be so nice to wear pretty dresses again. Her old ones wouldn't fit her, true, but they would nearly fit Cheridee, and if she just went up and told the queen - But she couldn't. Give up her freedom? If she did that, who was to know that they wouldn't start trying to teach her to be a proper princess, and that was the last thing she wanted. What good would it be for a gypsy to have the manners of a princess? The answer, none. But no more work? Well, what was wrong with work? Mabey Cheridee would be taken off her, and they'd tell her she was too young to look after her. That was it. She was not going, ever. She had given it up. Lalay only felt uneasy. She still couldn't really believe it. It would take another couple of days to sink in. So of them all, Cheridee was the only one who really enjoyed herself, as she gracefully glided around, or quickly ran in a sort of marching way, her face glowing with excitement - and soon the others forgot about it too, and raced off after her. 135 Well not quite forgot. That night in bed they both thought it over. For Lynett it had just reminded her of..everything. For Lalay it added a whole new side to life. She had always divided people into four classes before - good and bad, Them and Us, and Them had only been a sort of shadow. You cooked for them, cleaned for them, obeyed them, and saw them from a distance, but they were totally different creatures. They talked differently, walked differently, lived differently and wore lovely clothes, and they were also supposed to think differently - and here she was, an adopted sister to one of 'Them'. It was too much for even her broad mind. She turned over and listened to the wind howling outside the turret, and drifted to sleep. The next day it was still Winter and somehow it made Lynett cross, and there was no reason for her to be. It was her day off, though Lalay hadn't been so lucky - and she hated the thought that she couldn't go and play in the woods with Arletta or go berrypicking, and though she loved iceskating, it had been all they had been doing since the fighting. Besides, even though she was forgetting it, she was still trying to avoid anyone who might recognise her. It was too dangerous. She was still in bed and staring at the cobwebby rafters. Across from her she could see Cheride sleeping, her mouth delicately shut, and she had an idea. She dressed quickly and tied a thick woollen scarf around her hair, then she woke Cheridee. "Come on, we're going to town today . Hurry and get ready. I'll help you with your buttons as soon as I tell Lalay where we're going. Be back in a sec," she laughed at Cheridee's startled face and disappeared through the doorway. When she came back, Cheridee was sitting on the bed, fully dressed, with her gloves and cape on, only her shoes needed to be put on. "Good, good girl, come on. We'll spend the whole day away!" She ran out of the room, pulling Cheridee with her and they raced down the stairs, arriving flushed at the bottom. Then they ran acrosst the courtyard to the gate. "See you in the evenin, Halfred," she called out. 136 "Same to ye, Lynney , hev a good time," he yelled back. "You see if we don't!" He grinned. He had a sister that age an lik birds they were, so flighty an all! They crossed the drawbridge, and joined the crowd in the town, ducking and dodging, though. You could hardly see a foot in front of you. The snow was deep and it flung round, but they were warm in their thick dresses. They could hear the people calling through the wind, and when they got into the main street there was less snow, as the buildings towered over and blocked it. "Fresh bread, fresh bread, who will buy my fresh bread!" She heard someone muttering as they went past, "Frish brid, hindeed, why e ad te same bread oot last week an all!" and they giggled. "Shoes, shoes made t' order, te finest quality tis side o te world!" "Clothe, clothe, fine clothe, wool, velvet , silk, clothe , clothe, te finest cloth in the world!! Lynett looked down at Cheridee. "Should we?" Cheridee nodded and they weaved there way over to the shop. It was crowded and warm, and a young boy stood in the doorway yelling, rubbing his hands to keep them warm. "Cheers miss, me fathers somere in ter if ye want im." They nodded and went in, and he went on shouting. Cheridee started to go towards the wools but Lynett laughed and stopped her. "Not this time. This time I'm making us some real dresses. Come on!" and she led Cheridee over to the velvets, soft and shimmering. "Which one do you like best, that green one's nice. Come on, feel them, aren't they gorgeous!" "Aye, they are, aren't they," a voice broke in over her shoulder, and she saw a chubby old man, all chins and grins. "But aren't they a little expensive? Perhaps wool would be more in your range." Lynett shook her head. 137 "Nope, we want velvet. I've got enough money and I know what I want!" "Aye, I see that ye do!" and that single sentence made Lynett glow. For three years now she had been wandering about, following other people, not caring, but now, in the warmth of the shop, she felt in control, not the wishy-washy girl that she had been. "Yes I do!" and her voice rang. Cheridee looked up proudly. "Yes, she's my big sister, and she always knows what to do!" Lynett and the old man burst out laughing. "Well, lassie-who-knows-her-own-min,d de ye know what colour ye're wantin?" Lynett didn't, but she said straight out, "I want two yards of this scarlet please. Cheridee? What do you want?" "I want this one." She pointed to a deep purply red. The shopkeeper chuckled, "Well well, ye do know ye oon minds. Emazin. Coom on over te the counter an the fire an I'll measure it oot." He picked up the two thick rolls and led them over to where the fire was crackling that made the whole store seem merrier and cosier. "The Inspector dun like it," he nodded to the fire, "But I think it makes te room look right nice, an warm too." Lynett agreed and looked on while he cut the cloths, and stroking them, she loved the feel of them under her fingers, and their bright colours. ""Ere ye are miss. Nice ain't they. An seein that I'm such a generous old lad I'll gie ye soom ribbons. Ere ye are, pets. I'll be seein ye!" He gave them two black ribbons, long and thick, embroidered in silver thread, and they paid and left. The snow and cold wind hit them as they left the shop, carefully clutching their bundles, and they skipped along through the big and noisy crowd. Doing tiny dance turns as they thought of the clothes in the bag, they went into more shops, and more, buying mother of 138 pearl penknifes, wooden bracelets, tiny shoes, as if they knew they might not have much time left. "Which pair, this one or this one?" Lynett was asking, pointing at a tray of earrings. "Now these ones are so heavy they'll kill you're ears off, and these ones are so ugly that everyone will puke when thety see them, so which ones - The masterpieces, by Nord 'Black stew', or the genuine Morgans, the new ear exercisers, designed to pull your ears off or make them so strong you'll win a prize for the strongest ears!" Lynett laughed, Cheridee joined in. They were in a small little shop, dark but warm , and they were chosing which earrings to buy. Cheridee had nagged Lynett into promising to pierce her ears when they got back. Cheridee giggled too. "Neither. I want these ones." She pointed to a tiny pair in the corner of the tray, tiny little mother-of-pearl doves. "Your wish is granted. They are yours!" They paid for them and went outside, laden with boxes and bags. And Lynett still had her money pouch a quarter full, all her money she had saved up over the years. When they got out into the street, everyone was pushing and pulling, and they got their toes stepped on and elbows in their stomachs. "It's the . . ." "And did you. . ." They heard the whisps of conversation around them, and felt the closeness of the people. She heard a bugle, and she stood on tiptoes to try and see what was wrong. She couldn't see over all the massing heads . "Hey pet, do ye want te see? Com on, if ye want I'll lift ye oop," a man behind her said. He was strong, and looked kind, so she nodded, and smiled, and he lifted her up on his broad shoulders, where she crossed her legs delicately, smoothed her skirt and looked across the heads. Cheridee was lifted too. Lynett could see the blurry shape of horses and brightly coloured carriages from where she was sitting, safe in the 139 knowledge that no one could really see her through the snow. And then it stopped, just for a second, but that was enough. 140 CHAPTER 14 - THE AUNT It was clear. The second last carriage was going by, and a lady was in it, looking out the window. She had long black curly hair, and white skin with pink cheeks like roses, and big bluey green eyes, like Lynett's. Their eyes met across the crowd, and for a minute it seemed like time was standing still. All the noises ceased to exist, when the two eyes met, eyes that were nearly exactly the same, and Lynett knew she was staring at the Queen, her aunt, and her aunt had recognized her. The eyes told her that. Abruptly she leant down, to the man whose shoulder she was sitting on, "Please put me down now, and thank you." He put her down, and she smiled at him quickly, before grabbing Cheridee's hand and running, hil- nil through the crowd. "Hey, mind where ye're goin will ye!" "That's my toe ye're steppin on!" "Clumsy louts!" She ignored them and ran on, because over it all she could hear her aunt's voice, "Tatslina, come back, Tatslina." They were in an alle way when they stopped running, breathless and panting, and Lynett could hardly see for the tears in her eyes. "Lynett, why did you do that? I've got a stitch in my tummy now, naughty girl!" Cheridee scolded. "I'm sorry. It just came over me. No, no, oh I'm so scared." She put her face in her hands and curled up on the snow against the wall. "Lynne, come on, should we go back now?" Lynett could hear the disappointment in her voice, and looked up. "No, of course not. Come on, let's go and have lunch. You know, that place, on the corner, The Swan house, and we'll eat as much as we can!" 141 Cheridee laughed, relieved and they went on, and Lynett pushed what had happened into the very back of her mind. The pub was warm, bright and lively, and full of laughter and fun. There was music running round, skipping into all the nooks and crannies. ,Lynett lifted Cheridee up onto one of the high stools by the counter and waited for the manageress to come over. "Cheers, pets, what ye avin?" She was plump and merry, and reminded Lynett of Cosie. "Two milk drinks and two apple pies please." The manageress waddled off to get them and returned. "There ye are, ducks, nice and hot. I warmed the milk up a mite for ye too, ye dun mind do ye, I just thought thet it bein so cold ye might like it better like that." "Thanks, we do." They grinnned across the table and started sipping theit milk. The manageress had poured a glass for herself too. "Tell me about yourselves. I have not seen ye here before. Are ye gypsies or minsterils or what?" she asked cheerfully, in a soft country burr, easily recognised from the faster city pace. "I work at the castl. I'm a kitchen maid, but before that I was a gypsy, and before that I worked in an inn down by the sea." Lynett explained, smiling, not minding the curiosity. "Ah yes, I see. De ye know, me husband was tellin me that his niece, Molly she is, said there's been rumours round the castle that there's a ghost!" Lynett looked suitably shocked. There were always rumours going on about the castle. Did the ladies realise that if they had so much as one strand of hair out of place then the whole city knew about it? "Ah yes. Ye know that Tatslina, te princess from across the sea? Well, they say that she's bin seen round the castle. The nobles hear her laugh, and her song, and her voice -" Her voice dropped, and she whispered, "But naught a sign's bin seen o her. Ah yes, ye've a richt te be shocked, workin in te castle as ye 142 do. An they say, that it was she that saved the city, and she that fought te Rinn. No one ever knew who it was, did they?" Cheridee was listening open mouthed. "My friend told me about her, Lynett, she said that she was the prettiest princess ever!" she murmured. Oh hell, that was the last thing she needed. They'd leave as soon as they could. A month's notice was all that was asked. If she handed it in now then. . . They could leave next month. But she mustn't spoil Cheridee's day out. They'd stay here a while. . . Her feet started tapping to the music, and soon she and Cheridee were dancing, flying about the room, while the others clapped in time, before one by one joining in. It was late in the evening when they returned, singing as they carried all their parcels. They waved to the guard, not the one from the morning , but an older man, with greying hair, and a wrinkled, red, yet tough face. "See ye, lassies. Take me with ye next time?" he joked. They laughed and went inside and up to their room. "Cheridee? How did you like today, was it fun?" Lynett asked smiling. Cheridee nodded happily, "Very!" Her eyes were shining as she started to unpack the parcels, and she showed off proudly when Lalay came racing up, wrapping the velvet around her she stood on the chair and pretended to be a duchess. "And bow down to the royal lady of Rork. It is my command. I said, it is my command!" She made the words long and rolling, and spoke as if out of her nose, and Lynett and Lalay doubled over in laughter. "You sound exactly like her, she's the worst snoot. I met her once and the way she talks!" Lynett gasped between giggles. They were iceskating on the moat, by the light of the candles through the windows. They could hear the laughter of the court. Lynett and Lalay kept skating and talking. Cheridee was already asleep in bed, and they were discussing what to do, where to go, who should go. Lynett was to put in notice straight away,and leave with Cheridee, Lalay to join her next year, but 143 what was on their thoughts most was how to hide Lynett for the next month, if They caught sight of her again. Finally they agreed. The next morning, Lynett came to the kitchen with a big scarf draped round her head and shoulders, hiding her hair completely. It was of a warm orange, and went just right with her brown dress, and even more importantly, from a distance it looked like she had red hair. It was the week after that, and in the evening. The sun was setting through the snow gently falling in soft pink and purple rays, and she had forgotten everything. As she glided, Lalay was telling Cheridee a story. Work was over, and the sunset was so beautiful. Besides, she had just finished her new dress and had it on. She liked the way it seemed to move, like water, and the ice seemed like silver. The wind was gentle, and she just moved with no other thought in mind but the beauty. But then, another person joined them, a boy or man in black, and he was coming her way. She didnt like it, and with ease, turned round, as if she had been intending to all the time. Then she skated faster, she could feel him getting closer, she skated faster , so did he, faster, faster. Faster than she knew possible, she turned a corner, and dived into the snow-covered bushes, taking of her skates. Fine gypsy work, she didn't even seem to feel the snow that had fallen down her back and dampened her clothes. She had been right. It was Tarlon, and he was looking for her. She had to get away. She ran through the bushes, using all her skills to fade in. She knew she could get to the gate, but how could she get in? That was the logical place for him to wait. There were thick oak trees outside the gate, and she hid in those until she could see how to get in, and where he was waiting. In the back of her mind raced the thought, they"d have to leave tonight. As soon as she got in they'd start packing, and then they would have left by morning. 144 She saw a cart coming, with three old ladies on it, and she ran through the bushes to meet them. "Please, can I read your hand? You cross my hand with silver, and I read yours for you?" she asked. They nodded assent and she jumped in ,making sure to keep to the side that Tarlon wasn't on. She read their palms as Cathal had taught her, making much of the good and forgetting the bad - easy and simple, except for the few that liked bad news. She winked to the guard as she passed, and he grinned. Then she jumped off the cart and started running, nearly knocking over a bemused Melin. "Hey Lynett, wait, what's the rush?" She merely yelled, "Later," and went on running. She could see the black figure of Tarlon chasing her. How could he, and she had thought he was a friend! The, the, the pig, she put all the venom in her soul into that word, as she tripped up some stairs she hadn't ever seen before. She ran through musty halls, dusty rooms, she was panting, and tired, but always when she thought she was safe she heard footsteps behind her. The scarf that she was wearing in her hair, a creamy white on, e fell to the floor, she left it, and ran on, her dress swishing, the dust was making her cough, and the doors were getting harder and harder to open, as she went through rooms that hadn't been opened in years, but still the footsteps behind her. But she must go on, she must. Suddenly she saw an open grille, going down. She went down, to the sewers she knew it went, she should be safe there. She ran down, her heart pounding. It was cold in the sewers, and full of huge moss-eaten archways and tunnels. There was little space to run, only small walkways, and if you fell in, even if you didn't drown you'd stink for the rest of your life. She ran on, and she could feel her sweaty hair flying, her footsteps echoing as she ran, but she wouldn't stop running , not until she knew she was safe, though she slowed down, just a little, her breath was fast and gasping, and it seemed like she had been running for years. It was eerie down here, eerie and scary, chilly too, she kept on running, but as she ran further in, there were fewer and fewer lights, and more and more times she 145 slipped, and nearly fell in. Finally she stopped. She must be safe now. She started walking, slowly and carefully, and she could hear a slow drip drip in the silence, water falling from the ceiling. She jumped as a drop splashed on her hand, then kept on walking. She could feel old ghosts, trying to claw their way into her mind. She fought them with all her strength, and kept walking. She would be sorry to leave, but to be a gypsy again! Even the thought of it made her eyes begin to glow. She walked on and on, and then she found a wall with stairs up it. She climbed the stairs, worn with footsteps, and she was in the chambers of the dead. With the huge statues everywhere, it smelt of death. She sneezed softly and stept forward, closing the grille from the sewers behind her. If she guessed right, one of the many doors here should lead to a passage to the kitchen, and from there it would be easy to get away to her room. Bang! Her heart froze, her stomach turned, and slowly she turned round. There he was, on the other side of the big tomb. "Tatslina, wait, wait! Surely you don't mean to run away again. I'm your cousin!" He spoke quietly, but every word sounded like lead. She tried not to listen. "Cousin? Wait a while. How could you let us go on thinking you were dead, how could you not say anything, cousin?" Slowly he was stepping towards her. She stepped back. "I'm sorry ,Tarlon, it wasn't up to me. You'd have tried to make me a lady again, to stuff me into corsets, wear those tiny little shoes you can barely walk in. You'd make me always go escorted, I'd have to give up all my friends, you'd take Cheridee away from me. I'd always have to hide or run at first sight of the enemy. I've put it all behind me, Tarlon, I'm a different person now. I want to be free, I'm Lynett the gypsy kitchen maid, not Tatslina the princess of Cilia." She said it just as softly, but with a harsh edge to her voice. He stepped forward again, she stepped back. 146 "Truce then. Listen. Do all those things you've mentioned really matter? Surely you're more princess than gypsy. Just give our life a chance, for say, six months, then you can go, if you want. Surely corsets and small shoes aren't too bad." He was wheedling now, but the only thought that crossed her mind was, how could I ever have stood him, thinking I would give up my life for one like, theirs. "No, Tarlon, I'm going on. I couldn't live as a lady any more. I am leaving tonight, and nothing you can do or stay can stop it. I do want to see your mother, I would dearly love to see her in fact, but I can't, and that is all, though tell her, if she comes after me I would love to see her. She will know where I am. Tell her to remember her grandmother. Tarlon, please, let me go my way." He had changed since she last saw him. She had no idea how, but he had, and she didn't like it. She wished Dommy was here. He'd probably know what to do, and at least he'd understand. Then a voice said, "Yes, I do understand, and I think you should do what you think right, and the gypsy camp is waiting for you and Cheridee. We will be seeing you soon, I think!" the voice laughed. Lynett smiled, "Thankyou, Dommy, I won't be long!" she replied silently. "See, you do like the idea of becoming a lady again, don't you!" Tarlon gloated. "No, no, you silly,"she replied absently, still thinking of Dommy's laughing voice, "Dommy just told me he was waiting for me. Yes, I'm going tonight, and please wish your mother the best." She could see Tarlon's face going red. "You, you speak to my brother! How dare you. He is, he is a nothing now. He gave up the throne. He is no longer a royal, he is a gypsy. I forbid you to speak to him,"Tarlon snarled. Lynett stood back, terrified. He looked angry enough to kill, but that didn't mean he could talk to her that way, no one could. Her eyes started to fire. 147 "You have no right, no right at all to talk to me like that. You don't own me. Dommy's my friend, which is more than you are." Her voice was like ice, and the cold room seemed to get even colder. "Oh, yes I do, I am your master, I am the heir to the throne, and I may speak as I wish. You are one of my subjects, I have every right." Lynett gasped, then walked forward, and slapped him, good and hard in the face, leaving a big red mark. "No one owns me, and no one ever will, and you had better understand that now. I am going tonight, and I pity your poor parents, they don't deserve you!" "Oh, and I suppose you like my brother Darrlon, or Dommy as you call him, you fool." "Yes I d , much better. He at least has learnt that no one tells me what to do, and he never has tried. Besides, he's not such a pigheaded swine," she shot out. It was almost like a duel, so sharp the words were, and brittle. "I am going in exactly one minute. But before I go, tell me about Dommy. Is he really your brother? How did he leave? Why?" "You really want to know? Well he ran away, when he was ten. He joined the gypsys, and good riddance to bad rubbish. He and mother were always talking together, and laughing, they cut me out, and I was pleased when he left, do you hear me, pleased!" He was nearly hysterical now, and she ran back. She ran to the one open door, through all the tombstones. Then with one last look back, she ran on, she was safe. "Dommy, you are the best!" she thought. "Thank you, my dear, you'r' not so bad yourself," he said. She had no idea where he was but she was glad that he was with her too. Her dress swayed as she ran, neatly, in pretty little steps, holding her skirts, the way kitchenmaids' do - a lot nicer, she thought than the mincing elegant steps of ladies. 148 "Tatslina, you don't really mean to think you can get away that easily? I said you were staying. You are staying." The words echoed, everything seemed to echo. What did he think he could do to stop her? Tie her down? She sighed. Now she had actually talked to him she was beginning to wonder why she had even bothered running, but a part of her told her, she knew, that if he had just been a touch more persuasive, she might have, just for a second, accepted to see her aunt, and then it would have all been lost. She would have been caught up in all the threads, and to pull back, to leave - she would be caught, her and Cheridee. She started going faster. There was something about Tarlon that threatened her, then she knew it - magic, and not good. He would be, sixteen, seventeen? He had started magic when he was, what, eight? He must be good by now - better than her - worse? She didn't know, and she didn't want to find out. She went faster. He was starting to use his magic now, to pull her back. She ran faster, but it was harder. At every step she could breath less, it was being squashed out of her as she went. And he was catching up. She was in the maze of passageways again. She fought, magic against magic. It was still hard to breathe, but easier. She knew that if it came to a real battle, she couldn't win, even after all this time She was still weak, from, back then. Suddenly she felt magic fill her, new magic. "Thankyou, Dommy," she thought. "You're welcome." and she ran on, through all the passages, and rooms, she had seen some before, she had never seen others, she ran and ran, downstairs, through a winding and dark passageway, through a small library, then a room of old armoury, and then up some stairs, there was a small door, and it wouldn't open, she tried, and tried to open, but it was stuck, if he came near enough he might cast the net, and she hated the net. Suddenly just as he was about to start climbing the stairs, the door opened, and light poured in. She stumbled forward, she heard a door slam behind her. "Mother, father, your neice, Tatslina." 149 She was in the huge throne room and everywhere there were bright lights, colours, fine dresses, embroidered hangings, mirrors, paintings, so many - How had she ended here, when she had tried so hard to avoid it! As every one stared at her, she felt the tears come to her eyes, and the prickly feeling in her nose. Her aunty held her arms out to her, and she ran to them, and started sobbing, held so safe and comforting. 150 CHAPTER 15 - I WANT TO BE FREE "There, there, sweetheart, don't worry. Everything will be alright, I promise. Don't cry. Please don't," her aunt whispered as she held her. "Promise?" she asked, softly. "I promise." And she stopped crying. She could trust her, Lynett knew, not because she was Queen, that was a reason not to believe her, but because she had been a gypsy, and gypsies always keep their word. Then the queen loudened her voice. "My neice, we are pleased indeed to see you after all these years, and grateful that you had come to visit us, if in a very unusal fashion. My courtiers welcome my neice, Tatslina, Princess of Cilia." She called out, and they clapped loudly, while Lynett stood up and faced the court, smiling. She had learnt early how to smile on demand. "And now, we must talk, so if you will excuse us?" The Queen smiled sweetly as she apologized to the court, and they walked down the great hall majestically, and there was only a rustling of skirts as they walked. Tarlon followed them, but to Lynett's relief the Queen ordered him away as soon as they were out of sight of the courtiers. "Come on. We'll come to my room, and we can talk." the Queen smiled again, and led her to a room of blue and green. There was a bluey green carpet, bluey green drapes, bedspreads walls. Everything was bluey green but a large fire burning at one end of the room. She led Lynett over to a couch and they sat down in a sprawled but delicate way. 151 "Now tell me everything thats happened. Oh, I've been worrying about you. I knew you were alive but had no idea where. Every night I've looked into my crystal, but it didn't tell me until a week ago, just before I saw you in the city. And oh, why did you run away? I knew Tarlon was trying to get you. I was trying to warn you to leave immediately, but you went." The Queen said it sorrowfully, and Lynett looked down guiltily. "I'm sorry, and I wanted to stay, I really did, but I couldn't risk Cheridee. I'm sorry." "Cheridee, who is she? I havent heard of her before." "She's my adopted sister's daughter, and she's a darling!" Lynett grinned. "Well then, I must get her here." She called on a maid and told her to bring Cheridee to her. The maid left with a deep curtsy. "But what do you want to do now? I know you don't want to be a lady, so what do you want to do?" "I want to save Cilia, to rid it of the Rinn. I don't want to live there but I want to save it, and find someone to look after it for me. And then I just want to be a gypsy again, or perhaps a minstrel or inn person." She explained hesitantly, but her aunt applauded the idea. "Yes, yes, you must, and you are luckier than you know, to be a gypsy. I would go with you if I could." Her voice had taken on a wistful note, and her eyes were full of longing. "Dommy's your son, isn't he?" Lynett asked shyly, curling into the silken couch. "Yes he is. Isn't he the sweetest little one, he writes me once a week, and - oh my gods, you're the Lynett he was always talking about, aren't you? It only just struck me that you must be. And there I was so worried about where you were when all the time I knew exactly where you were, and you were in the best hands possible, isn't life strange!" She laughed, and Lynett joined in , 152 "But what about Dommy? How did it happen he became a gypsy? how why?" she asked, curiously. The Queen shrugged. "He was always my little boy, losing himself in the forests, and just walking about, but wild too, like a stream. I know I shouldn't have, but I seemed to spend more time with him than with Tarlon. He was more like me, and Tarlon was too busy trying to keep his clothes tidy!" She grimaced and Lynett laughed again. "But I think I always knew one day he'd leave me, and when he did, and went with the gypsies, well, I was happy for him, and both your mother and I knew that one day you'd probably have joined the gypsies too. It was in your nature, but that ... came instead," the Queen explained. "Aunty, why is Tarlon trying to keep me here?" Lynett asked, slowly. Her aunt's face went sorrowful. "Oh, he's his father's child, spoilt and greedy. He was taught he could have everything he wanted, so now that he wants you here, well, he'll try and keep you here any way he can. Sometimes I can barely believe he's my son." She spoke in an angry way, angry and upset, and Lynett could see why. She nodded sympathetically. Just then Cheridee walked in, with wonder in her eyes, and Lynett ran over to her. "Aunty, this is Cheridee, Cheridee, this is your Aunty, say hello to Aunty." "Hello, Aunty." She smiled shyly, but clasped her hands nervously as she took in the room. The Queen smiled. "Hello Cheridee." Cheridee curtsied. "Lynett, it's a very pretty room," she whispered. Lynett nodded. "Yes it is, isn't it. Do you want to sit down and talk with Aunty and me?" she asked. Cheridee nodded. "Where's Lalay?" The Queen looked puzzled, and Lynett explained. 153 "Why then, she must come up too. Which reminds me, we had better change your rooms. I think you might like the one that is just above the coracles, don't you? Though perhaps it isn't such a good idea. Why anyone can climb in and out that window, if they only have a rope." She spoke seriously, but her eyes twinkled and Lynett understood, and her eyes twinkled back. They talked on and on about everything after that, about clothes, travelling, 'the' Princess, and everything. Lalay when she came up joined in, though very shyly. This was her, Lalay, before the QUEEN. That night they slept between silken sheets, and the carpet on the floor was as soft as a feather. They wore silk nighties too, embroidered by the best in the land, long and flowing. But something seemed strange. It was too impressive, too grand, and too cold. It wasn't a friendly room, and Lynett grimaced to think that this was one of the least impressive noble rooms in the castle. But gradually she fell asleep. Her dove was cooing as it slept under a velvet curtain. Tally was happy. He slept in the nicest dog house there was. Rara was happy, in a lovely canopied doll's bed, and Twiller and Mistlet were resting on her pillow. Somehow, looking them over, it made her feel reassured. Everyone was here, and safe. The next morning she woke to find two maids waiting for her, and two more already dressing Cheridee, in a cream velvet, with blue and green trimmings. They handed her wet and slightly perfumed cloths to wipe her face with, then helped her out of bed. She couldn't move without them handing her something or moving somethingt out of her way, with unmoving faces, and she felt like screaming, but she liked, it, but she hated it. They dressed her in silken petticoats, then a low necked dress of sunset velvet. Then they escorted her down for breakfast, which was at a black marble table, and she could see Cheridees 154 worried face, and knew they must, leave soon, before the week was up. The thing she was grateful for was that Tarlon wasn't up yet. She already knew that he slept in, from the servants' gossip line. And that day was spent in a flurry of dresses, playing chess, talking, and she noted that nearly all the ladies she saw were sewing, or embroidering. They had nothing else to do, until evening, unless they were doing their hair, or changing their dress. How could they stand it? That night there was a big ball, and she entered in a flurry of greeny blue velvet - it was too cold for silk - a dress of her aunt's, with a low waist and neck. It clung in soft folds, while her hair was held in pearly clasps with little tendrils escaping. She could feel everyone staring at her, and she felt herself slightly blush, as she walked over to the throne, where Tarlon joined her. "See, you wouldn't get to wear dresses like this if you were a gypsy, would you?" he asked. She shook her head. "But I wouldn't have to waste five hours a day while maids changed my dresses and fussed with my hair, and spend the rest of my time embroidering,would I ?" she challenged. "Yes, but that's only until we get married. Then you'd have other things to do," he replied. At that she felt as if she'd stopped breathing. How could he suggest it, she marry him, he must be off his head. He seemed to have mistaken her shock. "Of course, not for another two years, but I decided I wanted to marry you four years ago," he explained, as if it was just like that, he decided he wanted it, and it happened. "But we are not getting married." She spoke slowly, one cold precise word at a time. Round them the rest of the court were dancing, swirling and laughing, but it was as if they were in a totally different place. "Yes you are." he said coldly and surely. "No I'm not. Give me one good reason." "I want you to, I order you to." 155 "No one orders me to do anything, especially not you." She blazed, though her words were icy. "Oh yes, I do. I'm to be King. I have the most magic in the kingdom, the royal family does, and I'll keep you here until you say you will, by magic." Even with the seriousness of the moment she felt like laughing. It wasn't his royal blood but his gypsy blood that gave him power, and she at full power had double his amount. Though at this moment, he must have nearly double her amount, but there was always . . . "You're right about one thing, the royal family does have magic, but it's because of their gypsy blood, and Dommy has far more magic than you'll ever have." "You dare bring him into this, he is - nothing, and I'm heir to the throne. And you prefer him to me!" "Much, and I'm leaving in exactly five days, do you hear me? Five days." "Oh, no, you aren't. You are staying here." "No I'm not." Just then she saw a man who didn't have a partner. She whirled over to him. "May I please have this dance?" And she was gone. The rest of the five days was spent in a flurry of dresses, fittings, choosing materials, having extra dancing lessons, thinking, talking , playing her lute, and watching, waiting. She knew Tarlon had cast a spell to keep her, she could feel it tugging at the back of her, and see it in his face, but she didn't let that worry her, when the time came. She liked talking as equal to all her friend knights, though they teased her about how she hadn't told them who she was, "And I actually told her that I was bewitched by Lila and worshipped the ground she walks on, and she turns out to be a Princess!" one groaned, though he was half grinning at the same time. 156 "Yes, and Lila and I are such friends, we tell each other everything!" she teased. "No, your secret is safe. She hardly speaks a word to me. Princess may I be, but kitchen maid I was!" They laughed though they were furious inside, and Lila had lost her worshipper. They remembered the battle, when certain delicate feet had kept well away , and had tried their best not to remember. And once she went down to the kitchens, and the undragon dragon, not remembering who she was, had looked up and smiled, "Ah pet, could ye gie me a hand wi te pots, cook burnt it and tis awful hard te clean." Lynett smiled and rolled up her sleeves, of a soft angora dress, embroidered in silk, and tying on an apron started scrubbing, singing all the time. But her friends the knights came looking, and laughed when she blushed. "Old habits are hard to break," she said guiltily, and they laughed again, and the undragon dragon suddenly looked up from her scrubbing. "What are ye all doin in me kitchen may I ask!" she scolded crossly. "Can ye no see that ye're disturbin te maids?" she clucked, and everyone was looking at them. "An I'm sure me little Lynney as done naught wrong if that's what ye've come about." Immediately a whisper started round the kitchen that Lynett had done something terribly wrong. They had heard that the princess had been found, and Lynett hadn't been working, and they had noticed the clothes, yes indeed they had. She'd stolen money she had, how else would she be able to afford them snooty clothes, the whisper went. One of the knights started laughing again - right handsome they were an' all! "Yes indeed, she's done something terrible wrong. See!" They nodded wisely. They were right, though still, not Lynett, surely not Lynett! 157 "Your Lynett, I have to inform you, is in fact," he paused "Princess Tatslina of Cilia!" A gasp went round, a murmur like wave. "Stop havin us on, an dunny tease me, Lynney." undragon dragon shook her hand at them. The "But it's true, she's the princess. I swear it on my mother's honour," they promised. "Lynney, is that true?" the undragon dragon asked in a reverent whisper. She nodded, red faced, "Yes it is." necklace and showed it to them. She brought out her "I didn't want you to find out, but, yes I am. If you don't believe me, ask the Queen." Then she turned on the knights. "How could you, you silly fools. If you tell secrets like that, then I will too. Taron, you were the biggest crybaby, and Randol, do you remember the time you bit the Lady Anhored's legs and . . . she would have gone on, she was so angry, but Randol placed a firm hand over her mouth. "Lynett cum Tatslina, it doesn't do to hide it," he warned, "You are a princess and nothing you can do will change that. The most you can do is try and work it so that it doesn't matter too much, and its' very silly of you to try otherwise." she stopped struggling and he took his hand away from her mouth. She glared at him. He only grinned, so instead she smiled. "Come on, the Queen will be waiting. She's reading Cheridee a story." Taron held out his hands and helped her up. She blinked some tears away. She hated being a princess. She quickly kissed the undragon dragon, who had started crying. "Don't worry I'll be back," she whispered, and with one glance back, she left. But despite all, the last day soon came. The Queen was giving them two horses, and in the late afternoon, they packed them 158 and Darlet, and the Queen had a maid take Tally, Rara the dove and Twiller and Mistlet to the meeting spot. Lynett and Cheridee would come later, via window. The horses and animals were easy to camouflage, but she knew that Tarlon would soon see through any disguises Lynett tried for herself and Cheridee, and if Tarlon knew how they were going to escape, then he'd stop them. Even now it would be awfully hard to get away. He still had the spell on her, and it would be hard to break. That night there was the usual ball, and Lynett dressed carefully, with Lalay , who was in tears, and Cheridee helping. She had very early on managed to get rid of her maids. Sniff, sniff, "Oh, id's nod fair !" mumbled Lalay through a red nose, "If id werrntr for dat awful prince we could sdill sday togeder!" "I know, he's the pits, isn't he, and he's my cousin. Oh don't cry now, or I'll start, and puffy eyes aren't in fashion at the moment." But though she felt sad she still felt happy, she was nearly free again! "Dommy, I'm coming!" "I'm expecting you!" She laughed silently, and straightened out her skirt, and lifted the already dressed Cheridee "How do I look, sweetheart?" "Pretty." Lynett laughed and put Cheridee down, then taking her hand, and giving Lalay a hug went out to the ballroom. "See you in half an hour," she whispered, and they went, Cheridee tightly clutching her hand. She danced with nearly everyone there, laughing and moving all the time, her feet like wings, and Cheridee watched, spellbound at all the whirling skirts. But finaly she realised it was time to go. Gradually she danced her way to the door, then slipped out of the room, with Cheridee, to meet the Queen and Lalay in her bedroom. "How long do we have?" 159 "I'd say ten minutes," the Queen sighed, "And that lout down there is my son." "You poor thing. But can you hand these letters out? I wrote them today, I just had to say goodbye to everyone, but I couldn't speak," she explained. The Queen smiled, and quickly they all said goodbye, Lynett in a calm hearttbreak, and the Queen and Lalay openly sobbing. Lalay was to be the Queen's new handmaid, until she joined Lynett and Cheridee again. After all the kisssing and hugging, Lynett opened the diamon- paned window, and felt the cold velvety breeze caress her. She could see the shadows, and feel the freshness. They tied a rope to a pillar, and slowly she began the climb down to the frozen waters below. There was magic in the air. Cheridee came down after her, and looking up they could see the silhouettes of the Queen and Lalay in the window, against the bright and shining light. They could hear whisps of music and laughter, but they only blew a kiss up, and hand in hand, ran on to where the horses were waiting. 160 CHAPTER 16 - THE END They trotted through the night, so still and silent. Icicles hung on the stretching trees, and snowflakes fell gently and they could see the stars twinkling down, as though giving their blessings, and the horses trotted on, and on. The air was brisk and fresh, cold and mysterious, as they plodded on and on. They passed the forest and now instead there were fields and hills, wild and barren, with the dark shadows of stone gates and outreaching trees. An owl hooted, and the horses speeded for a pace or two, and Lynnet and Lalay rose and fell on their saddles. The dove in its cage started cooing softly, as it bounced in its cage against Darlet's side. Rara made a little clucking noise from where she was curled to Lynnett's chest, then she dropped her head and slept again. And then Lynnet started to feel the pull. It was trying to take her back to the castle, it was tearing at her, her hands holding the reigns tightened, and her nails dug into her palms, small trickles of blood ran down her hands, but still it pulled at her. Tarlon must have discovered she was gone. She thought the Queen could have held him longer. They had to go faster, they had to - he'd be sending his dogs and men after her soon, they had to hurry "Dommy, help us," she called out silently. "I'm coming." She had to go faster. What could she do? Quickly, she jumped off her horse, being careful of Rara, andof Twiller and Mistlet who were sitting on the pommel. Tally jumped up at her heels, and she patted him and told him to shush, and untied the dove from Darlet, and retied her on to her horse. Cheridee had stopped, and was staring down, "Lynnet, what is it? Something's wrong, Lynnet?" "Don't worry pet, everything's going to be alright. You don't have to worry about a thing!" she smiled brightly, but added silently, "If I have to die for it". And the pull went on, a tearing 161 jolting pull. She was having her soul pulled out of her, she couldn't stand it. She couldn't, but all she did was magic the largest bag she could and start packing everything on Darlet into it, then she slung it over her shoulder, and untied Darlet from the two horses. "Darlet, we must go now. I'm taking your load off. You're free. You may run and go as you please. Goodbye. Join us at the gypsy camp again, if you like, I hope you do, but you must run off now. I'm sorry but I must do this, goodbye," she whispered and kissed her on her forehead. Darlet seemed to understand, and bowed her head as Lynnet took off her bags, and hid them in the bushes, and then, the donkey nuzzled Lynnet, looked once at Cheridee, and trotted off in the other direction. Lynnet lifted the sleepy Cheridee off her horse, and helped her on to hers, and they were off again, this time galloping, as fast as the horses could go, Cheridee galloping alongside. The wind raced around them as they went on and on, but still she felt the pulling, an intense pain racing through her, like knives cutting her up, but she went on, and on, into the dark - but behind her she was beginning to hear noises, noises in the dark, barking and yelling, snarling barks and yells like screams. She made the horses go faster, and the wind was bringing tears to her eyes. If only there was a mist or something, then they could disappear. If only she had all her magic, if it could just come back for an hour, surely no one could deny her that. But it didn't, and neither was there a fog, only the snow, vast neverending fields of it. "Lynnet, something is wrong, isn't it, people are coming after us, aren't they?" Cheridee looked up at her, and there was fear in her eyes. "Yes they are, but don't worry, nothing will happen to you," she comforted, and she knew she was right. Before anything could happen to Cheridee, Lynnet would have to die. 162 163 "We won't go back will we, Lynnet? Lynnet, please, I don't want to. Tarlon hurt me. Lynnet please, he twisted my arms. Please, Lynnet, please Lynney," she begged. Lynnet seethed. How dare he, he hurt Cheridee! The pull was still on her and she was beginning to sweat, but for just one second she gathered all her powers and turned them into one big ball of fire, as hot as sin, and sent them along the pull he had on her, hard and swift. She put every ounce of herself into it, she would pay him back. She knew she had got him. The pull was stronger, and it hurt more. She would have killed him if she could, but instead she hugged Cheridee. "Darling, we will never go there again as long as my cousin is there, I promise, and if we do they'd have to drag me by my hair. Just sleep now," she whispered into Cheridee's hair, and Cheridee smiled and slept. They galloped on. And the noises were getting closer. She bit her lip, and bit in all the twirling thoughts that were going through her head. She must do something, otherwise she would be a prisoner again, but what? Her head ached her body ached, her soul ached her heart ached, and the night was dark and barren. She could feel Cheridee's gentle breathing as she lay curled into Lynnet, and it comforted her, but it made her want to cry to think, because she, Lynnet the gypsy, Tatslina the princess, had too little magic to fight a spoiled hysterical idiot of a prince, poor little Cheridee had to suffer. She raced on, but she was getting out her sword. The sounds were coming nearer, they'd catch up soon, and when they did, she'd fight, with all her soul and skill. She knew what she'd do. She'd put Cheridee on the other horse, with Twiller and Mistlet to guide, and she would stay and fight. She must, but now, she would keep riding until the last minute. She must escape, she would escape. Through the blackness of the night they galloped, on and on, and the barking and shouts were getting nearer,and nearer. Cheridee stirred in her sleep, and they galloped on. If they just went fast enough they must get away, oh they must. She looked back, and she thought she could see the shadows that they were, oh Twilea help me please, she begged, help me help me. On 164 and on, it seemed like the blackness of pain and despair were engulfing her, locking her into their folds, but always there was hope, there must be hope, there must. But the horror was swirling round her like a river, a river of hate, and still they went on. Behind her, they were getting closer, closer, , oh, something had to happen, it was all welling up in her, oh, help me help me someone, oh mother of darkness, just let us disappear in you, she begged. Her horse neighed, tossing up its head, and they rode on. Something must happen soon, she couldn't stand it, and then she saw them, three of them. She could only see their shadows on the snow encrusted path in front of her, but she knew them straight away - and they weren't Tarlon's men. Gently she woke Cheridee up, and helped her down. Then she slowly unclung Rara, who tutte d, and then she jumped off in one swift, graceful movement, and ran with all her strength, her skirts and hair streaming. "Princess, Dommy, Nick!" she cried out. She held her arms out to Dommy, and he swung her round, and hugged her, then she ran to the Princess. "Granny, Granny, you never told me! Oh how I missed you and he's coming after us, oh Princess stop him, please stop him," she rushed out as she hugged the Princess. Cheridee was hugging both of them at the knees now, and they were laughing and crying, happy and sad. "They are stopped," the princess said quietly. "Dommy stopped them. Everything is alright." -------It was Spring. The long winter was over, and they were standing on a hilltop in Tamlan. The wind was bright and free, the hills rich and green, the world was a good place to live. She would succeed, she knew it, and she was a gypsy, and they were a group, the three of them, that would stay together, and soon Lalay would join them, they were together! Their heads were upward to the sky, to feel the new wind, and they were 165 panting from racing up the hill, Lynnet, Cheridee and Dommy. Soon Lynnet would seek knights to fight for her, but now, she was too happy. Cheridee looked up smiling, and she smiled back, sweet little Cheridee. The sun shone brightly. Suddenly with a toss of her head she reached for her sword, and with a swooping move she drew it up and out, so it shone in the sun, sparkling and glistening over all the hills around, casting a silver ray over the valleys. "To life!" she cried, and the valleys rang with it. "To the future!" cried Dommy, and his hand went up to his sword. "To us!" sang Cheridee, and she was too small to reach a sword, so she just hugged them, and they all laughed. "Here's to us!" THE END 166 Everything a 12yearold girl could want packed into a story exciting adventure, fun, mystery, friendships, heroism, romance from playing in the waves at the beach with a rescued waif, to fighting the embodiment of evil using swordsmanship she was taught by a seacaptain during a ship adventure. Kirsty has since published two fantasy stories written in her teens, and continues to write. Kirsty Anderson 10 or 11 yrs