We all run over there and fall in behind each other waiting for our turn. (This hill is really steep and those logs are big) Some of the men do this really fast, they look like machines and I am intimidated just looking at them. A big, tall, dark skinned man standing in front of me turns around and looks down at me like I’m an ant.
“Me Lady it is good to have you back”
He nods friendly and turns back again before I can answer (They know me?) (Of course they would, they grew up hearing the tails of what happened that day) a strange calmness comes over me and a burning in my chest and palms that I never felt before boils on the inside of me (what is happening to me? This feels good) I am suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of duty and that I should in fact be here, doing this, and I can not disappoint these people or myself or my parents. (So this is what duty and honor means?) I was next; the man in font of me reached the top in no time (Okay Auryon concentrate) with my palms still burning I reach down and push the log. First it didn’t really move. For some reason that made me really angry (I am not giving up over a stupid log) not realizing everybody was watching me because the log was so much bigger than me. I unintentionally let out a loud scream and pushed. The log starts rolling, my palms burning. The more my palms burn the stronger I feel (PUSH AURYON!) my feet slip as I give it everything I’ve got to get to the top but I plant my heels. Every now and then I stop and then start pushing again. Everyone had finished and was waiting for me. I did not even noticed them. All I saw was this log and that hill. I was nearly at the top and my arms were starting to wobble (ONE MORE!)
I give the last of my strength and push the log over. The burning I felt is gone and I drop to my knees at the top of the hill. (That was torture, seriously) I am trying to catch my breath when I hear the general’s voice.
“Good Auryon, now can you get down while we are all still young?”
(He is relentless…) I get up and make my way down the hill almost falling in the process. At the bottom the other recruits just stare at me like I’m a ghost (what happened?) I have a frown on my face. Peter walks over to me:
“Good job Aury that was impressive”
(REALLY?) “Oh thanks Pete”
(I did just roll that massive log up that hill, didn’t I?) the general gets us together after a brief rest.
“Now we have the wall of despair and that will be the last task of today”
(Oh thank you, thank you)
We walk into the woods following the general and there before us I look up at a wall at least 3 times taller than me. (ARE YOU EVEN SEEING THIS!?) The men all look at each other like they are figuring out a game plan over this wall. The general gives us the rules.
“You need to get over this wall. You can climb, claw and anything else using only your body. No ropes. No help. Just you and yourself with your natural strength”
(My natural strength huh, I am doomed)
At first only two men reach the top and drag themselves over. Many of us don’t make it up the wall. I jump and cling and claw but nothing. I hardly make it halfway. Peter and Lance do better than me they nearly reach the top but many of us can’t do it. The general stops us after a while
“Okay that’s enough for today, the wall will take some time” “you are all dismissed”
(THERE IS A GOD!)
We get together in the kitchen for dinner that night. (I can’t feel my legs, do I still have legs?) I look down just to make sure (I am a mess) a maid comes rushing into the kitchen
“No, no, no you can’t sit here with us anymore”
Lance looks at her with concern “Why can’t we?”
Gabriel smacks his forehead with his hand,
She smiles at him and takes his arm “You have seats at the table now, you are nobles”
(Well that was unexpected, does the whole world know?) We all look like we were run over by six buses and maybe two Elephants when we sit down at the table. (Day one has unmistakably kicked our asses) I am so exhausted I hardly look up. I sit about two chairs from the head where Lord Canowicakte sits then the general then some fancy dressed guy next to me. On the other side of me is Tracey, than Peter, Lance and Gabriel.
“Tracey why do you smell like wet dog?” I ask her.
She gives me a tired but satisfied smile, her sleeves are torn and she is covered in some sort of cave muck….. She answers slowly;
“Well I had some disagreements with the training today, it’s been… demanding”
She looks over at me “Why do you smell like someone rub their arm pits over you?”
Unimpressed I turn to her “Because someone did”
We burst out laughing. The guys are beaming with joy as they tell Gabriel what happened to us today. (Oh this food is great) I notice out of the corner of my eye Lord Canowicakte watching me. Every now and then he would steal a gaze. (He must think I look like a beast) just as he is about to call me the general leans in and whispers something in his ear. He looks at me shocked and then says nothing, just nods. (I don’t know what you said general but thank you, tonight it’s just me and my blistered bloody hands) we get up from the table to go to our rooms but another maid is waiting for us outside the dining room.
“Your rooms are this way”
Peter and Lance give each other a high five as we go up into the castle and into the wing opposite of Lord Canowicakte chambers. We had never been to this side of the castle but it is beautiful and bright. Gabriel gets his own luxury room with a view and on suite bathroom. He has taken off his shoes and is walking barefoot (I am so shocked I gasp) he looks over at me. My eyes wide.
“Don’t say a word Aury I have been running up and down this place the whole day I deserve this”
I bite my lip and nod smiling “Whatever you want, you are in charge” and I wink at him.
“Damn right I am” he enters his room and closes the door.
Peter and Lance share a huge room each with their own large beds on either sides of a screen painted with old scenes of battles and war. Peter is all smiles
“Oh wow, how awesome is this?”
Lance seems to be in heaven as well “The girls are going to love this”
I chuckle, “Girls huh? Those blond ones?”
He nudges my shoulder “Ouch!”
Peter is still exploring “and on suite bathrooms”.
The maid turns to them “the first royal pair who lived here 200 years ago had twins”
(That explains this room. So this castle is that old…) across the hall from them are two more rooms, one for Tracey and one for me. Both rooms are beautifully decorated in earthy tones. Tracey’s room has accents of pink and green with soft curtains and flowers placed everywhere including the on suite bathroom which has a built in closet
“Oh Aury, this is so gorgeous!”
(It happens to be her favorite colors) “It suites you Trace”
She looks around her room and I make my way to mine. When I open the door a familiar fragrance fills the air (that smells like my mom) my room is large and luxurious. a Big bed overlooks the whole forest and it reminds me a lot of Lord Canowikates room. My room is decorated in Pastel colors from top to bottom. Everything beautifully made. My bedding and curtains have been embroidered by hand with little summer flowers on them (This is so… I love this) to the one side of the room is my on suite bathroom decorated much the same with a walk in closet (It’s filled with stuff!) On the other side of the room I notice stares heading up and I can’t resist. They lead me into a small tower high above the castle. When I get there my mother’s cloak is hanging on the wall with a note and next to it another cloak. My eyes tear up. The room is decorated in blue and gold, filled with books and comfortable fluffy cushions
(I ADORE THIS TOWER) I walk over and take the note
“My little Fire Fox, I had your room prepared for you as well as this private place you can retreat to. From here I can see you when I look out my tower. Your mother’s cloak has been repaired but not washed and I had them make a replica for you”
Tears start flowing down my face
“On your cloak is a Gold clasp that looks like the tree you saw on my back, it was your father’s.
I sob uncontrollably and collapse to my knees.
I know I do not always convey to you how I feel but I hope this small gesture will open your heart because you have opened mine. Canowikate.
I cry so loud that I don’t hear Tracey come up the stairs. She rushed over to me and folds me in her arms
“Aury, what’s wrong?”
I put the letter in her hands and she starts reading it. I get a hold of myself in the meantime and wipe my tears. Tracey’s eyes fill with tears and she gives the letter back
“You know Aury for a heartless bastard he sure is very wonderful”
I laugh at her.
“So when did you see his back? Mmm?”
My eyes give me away at the unexpected question and I feel my cheeks go red
“I…um… it was a thing…with the…..”
she starts laughing “never mind I can see it was worth it”
I smile sheepishly “Oh Trace you have no idea”
Her eyes sparkle “really?, so tell me”
We sit in my tower and talk about everything. I tell her what has happened to me and she tells me how her life has unfolded as well and that she and Gabriel seem to be getting closer
“Gabriel! Trace you never said anything!”
She shyly shakes her head “we’ve been busy”
(I suppose so) “Look Aury regardless of who Lord Canowikates was when we got here, he has changed. He didn’t have to do any of this for us but he did. I really think he does feel something very deep and special for you”
I nod (he has to after all this) “Trace do you still want to go back home?”
She looks at me in silence for a few seconds her blue eyes are searching her soul.
“I don’t know Aury, to what will we go back? In the beginning I couldn’t wait to leave I was frightened all the time, but now…. I train beasts for heaven sake’s”
we both laugh
“Why do you ask, do you want to go back?”
I think for a few seconds (to what?)
“No, I don’t think so, I never felt I had a place in the world but here I feel like it’s my home”
She nods smiling “then it is decided me and you stay right here”
a Sense of relieve washes over me and we hug each other tightly
“Oh ugh we smell so bad”
laughter burst out the tower. We walk down and retire for the night. The maids had been there and a warm bath was waiting for me. I get undressed and lowered my sore, bruised body into the warm water. I groan as my open blisters sting but my muscles thanking me with each warm wave. (I hope I can walk tomorrow) after my bath I just fall into my bed. A soft feather bed.
To be continued…