As I work on these next books for you, I know you’re eager for more stories from the Angel and Avalon universe
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Before the first book in my Angels and Avalon series, the nameless girl, who would be known later as Adamina, lived a dozen years of her life in a dark world that hated her. This is a short story about that time. I hope you enjoy this tale!
The little girl came out all wrong. As a result, her mother, the Queen, refused to look at her. She had more important things to worry about. She was given to the wet nurse and forgotten. So completely forgotten, the little girl didn’t even have a name.
She sat in the wet nurse’s arms, suckling hungrily. She was a harsh, disgusting light in a world that thrived in the dark.
The servants quickly moved her out of sight into an area of the castle that was run-down and disused.
She grew up in the castle, the servants quietly answering for her needs. She was, despite her wrongness, the princess. The seamstress made her clothing in colours of ash and blood. The wet nurse ensured she was fed just enough to keep living until the Queen decided otherwise. No matter what they did, the dark kingdom colours and the near-starvation did nothing to make her right. Even her ears weren’t quite as harshly pointed as the rest of her race.
Her skin glowed bright and pale with swirling pinks, greens, and blues below the surface as it stretched over bones. Her eyes were large and iridescent. Her hair couldn’t make up its mind what colour it wanted to be. It was blasphemous, her head of bright coloured strands. Her hair shone, illuminated by bright light. But the light could only come from within the little girl. No light had shone over the kingdom in a very long time.
She should have been grey-skinned and dark featured like her mother. If she was a proper princess, her heart would have been cold enough to rule. But she wasn’t a proper princess. She was no one.
Instead of teaching her to run the kingdom, her tutor taught her silence. Once, he caught her singing a horribly bright tune and beat her mouth black and blue. If the Queen had heard her song, the tutor and the princess both would have been beheaded or worse. No one could blame the tutor, he was just looking out for himself like a proper subject of the Queen. Besides, the nameless princess had been beaten before and would likely be beaten again. The servants hoped that a proper beating, more thorough than usual, would make her shine less brightly and turn her into the heir she should be.
To quiet her complaints of boredom and prevent further singing, the tutor read to her. Stories of horror, death, and destruction fit for her status were brought to her bound in skins she dared not inquire about. But they were all she had and so she listened until she couldn’t listen anymore.
There was nothing he could do to make her right. Her tutor gave up and left the princess, forgotten. For the first few years of her young life, the princess spent her time staring out the tiny window into the colourless beyond. She had to climb upon her bed to reach the opening.
Then the window clouded over and she couldn’t see out any longer. She found she missed the stories the tutor told, even if they were horrible. The time between the nursemaid’s visits grew longer and longer.
When she arrived, the girl tried her raw voice and asked for the nurse to get her more stories.
“With what?” the nurse asked. “I can’t take metal from the queen. You have no allowance or means for a teller to share stories of the kingdom with you. I can’t let others know about you, the queen’s reputation is at stake and I like my head on my shoulders. No metal. No stories.”
“What’s metal?” the princess asked.
The nurse scoffed. “Shiny, hard material. Used for weapons and worn all over your body to show how rich you are. Bits of metal are valuable.”
The princess thought hard, a frown on her face. She looked around her room for anything valuable. She didn’t really know what was valuable. Metal. The nurse said she needed metal. In her wardrobe, the seamstress had provided her with a box of jewels. They were cast offs with broken chains and scratched gems. She gave the box to the nurse.
Reluctantly, the nurse agreed to bring the princess stories.
The nurse kept the jewels for herself, but found a merchant who had a pile of broken scrolls and books and cast-off stories on pieces of parchment he couldn’t sell. So the nurse took these from the merchant and gave them to the princess in an old vegetable crate.
“No bard, but these hold stories. You can read them.”
The little girl happily embraced these cast-off stories and fragments. She arranged them on her floor and stared at the strange markings. She couldn’t read yet, but maybe if she stared long enough, she’d learn to read the stories.
At the bottom of the crate, an ancient, dusty text caught her attention. It was a paler brown than the other books she had and smelled sweet. The paper wasn’t made of flesh like the other books, but something else. When she had opened the pages, a colour she had never seen before stared back at her from a strange shape pressed onto the paper.
The words were a mystery to her, but the smells filled her head with dreams. The book was too bright, like her, and so she hid it away from the servants. Late at night, she would open the book, inhale deeply, and then fall asleep to dream.
She dreamed of soft black stuff she knew was called soil, and green. Brighter green than the leaf in her book covered the black soil that tickled her toes and smells of colour carried her safely away from that dark room. She travelled past the castle walls and stables and open bare fields to find colour. Every morning she woke, a restlessness woke with her and grew, calling her away from her room to find the secrets of the book she couldn’t read.
Soon, the nurse and seamstress abandoned the little girl like the tutor, and a young girl was the only servant to attend the princess. But this girl was kinder than the others. The princess’ lady-in-waiting brought her a full meal instead of the measly daily serving of stale bread ends and water her nurse had brought her. She also brought the princess gowns when she grew out of the old ones.
Tired of the darkness, the princess asked her lady-in-waiting to have a dress made in green. The lady-in-waiting had stared at the princess in confusion.
“What’s green?” she asked the princess.
The princess whispered, “I’ll show you, but you mustn’t tell anyone about this.”
The young lady-in-waiting nodded and the princess retrieved the ancient text from beneath her bed. The princess opened it and tugged out a crispy, dry leaf, handing it to the girl. “This is green.”
The lady in waiting left the princess to have the green dress made, but the princess wouldn’t see the green dress until it was too late.
When the restlessness outgrew her tiny body, she began to creep out and explore the castle and the grounds a little bit more. There were no guards posted at her door or along the corridors connecting her rooms. She was small and no one looked down at her little stature to notice. She wore a dark cloak that concealed her features and hid her light.
One day, she ran into a servant she didn’t know. The man didn’t even glance at her. The nameless girl was invisible. In this invisibility, she relaxed. She roamed the castle, avoiding the areas where her mother and the courtiers would be. She avoided the daily executions and learned the guards’ routines to avoid them.
Her lady-in-waiting kept the princess’ adventures quiet and warned her against running into a soldier of the queen. “Just don’t get caught. You’ll kill us both,” she said.
“I won’t. You’re my friend and I don’t want to hurt you.”
The queen threw a great party and everyone attended. She could see the grounds from the small windows in the hall. Now was her chance.
She silently moved through the black stone castle to the stables. The smell of manure and animal hit her as she walked through the open doors. The large black and grey horses frightened her as their piercing eyes glared at her from their stalls. Their breath billowed from nostrils and their teeth snapped at her.
She was too small for their powerful necks to reach and so all they could do was pound their iron-clad hooves loudly on the floor. Her bare feet felt the cold wood of the floor as she slowly walked through to the end.
None of these would do. She had never learned to ride and these were her mother’s vicious man-eating horses she had heard the seamstress and the nurse talking about. She wasn’t sure if they’d eat little girls too but she didn’t want to risk it.
The boards at the end of the stable wall were cracked and broken. There was a large hole in the wall that let the cold through. She had long learned to surrender to the cold, fighting it made its sting worse. Through the break in the wall, she caught a glimpse of the dusty pastures beyond. She carefully pushed through the hole, but scraped her arm on the wood and let out a hiss as blood welled on her skin.
The horses licked their lips hungrily. She quickly pushed her whole body through and wrapped a hand around the wound. The horses definitely would eat little girls if they got the chance. She shivered in the cold air.
The morning night sky was endlessly grey. She had worn one of her ash dresses out. It concealed the soot and dust it accumulated from the heavy air. She took a breath and decided she preferred the smell of the stables to the acrid burning smell of the out doors.
Piles of soot rolled over the landscape. Flakes of ash fell from the sky making the hills grow larger as time passed. Dense, short shrubs grew around the pastures, acting as a divider between the castle grounds and the rest of the Queen’s land. A soft whinny drew her attention to a little brown pony.
It was tied to a post and had thin ribs. Its coat shone a bit beneath the layer of ash and soot that had accumulated on its back. There was no one around. Slowly, the girl made her way to the pony. She saw recognition in the brown eye as she approached. Instead of gnashing its teeth and glaring at her, it closed its eyes and slumped its shoulders.
She stood in silence for a long time, staring at the pony. Finally, when the pony didn’t move, the princess moved close and patted its nose. The pony shuttered and the girl saw how thin the thing was. Its bones, like hers, showed through its skin.
The girl brushed off the pile of debris on the pony’s back and stood back. Still, the pony didn’t open its eyes. Its sides rose and fell shallowly. It wouldn’t do if the pony wouldn’t open its eyes. She’d never get to do what she planned if she couldn’t ride past the hills of soot and ash.
Maybe it hadn’t eaten yet today, the girl thought. She knew she felt tired if she didn’t eat. Sometimes food and water helped. She snuck back around the side of the stable to a trough filled with muddy water. A metal bucket sat near by. The girl struggled to lift the thing, but eventually managed to get a little bit of water inside. A cart full of blood-red apples sat close by, ready for the Queen’s horses. The princess snuck a few, filling the pockets in her skirts. Some for the pony, some for her. She didn’t know how long her journey would take.
The metal bucket left a trail as the girl dragged it back to the pony. Brown nostrils twitched at the smell of the water, but the pony still didn’t open its eyes. She fished one of the apples from her pocket and held it out. The pony’s whiskers tickled her hand and her lips stretched upward. Finally, the pony opened its eyes again.
The brown orbs stared back at her, then it lifted its lips and bared its teeth. It leaned forward and scraped its teeth on the apple, steeling a bite. The apple rolled out of the girl’s hand and onto the ground. The pony hesitated and the girl thought it would close its eyes again and end her adventure. Then, it dipped its head and nipped up the rest of the dusty apple, chopping loudly and swallowing it core and all.
The pony dared a drink from the muddy water. It raised its head more proudly and looked at the girl. They had an understanding. She worked on the ropes until her fingers ached, but the knot eventually loosened. She pulled the rope off the pony’s neck and climbed up on to its back. She laced her fingers through its mane and tugged in the direction she wanted the pony to turn. She tried not to pull too much. The girl knew what it felt like to be dragged around by the hair and it wasn’t nice.
Together, the little nameless girl and the brown pony rode out.
They rode and rode and rode. Past the ash hills and the stinking river. Beyond the open graves whose rotting corpses made her gag but didn’t seem to upset the pony. They even rode right into the white and grey bush forest with its pointy branches and dense black leaves.
They rode until they found a clearing in the brush. The princess dug and dug at the ground, brushing away layers of ash and dust. She was looking for soil and flowers beneath. The ancient book had said that flowers grey after the winter was cleared. Sometimes they grew beneath the snow. She had heard the tutor say the ash snowed down once and so she guessed that ash and snow were the same thing.
But the nameless girl found nothing. No soil, no flowers, no seeds, no trees. No greens or purples like in the book. No bright colours like her.
The sky darkened and she decided not to ride past the open graves at night. Stories of the bodies crawling out of the pits kept her away. She and the pony slept in the clearing until the sky lightened from black to grey again, and they were ready to return to the castle.
Back through the brush and the open graves. Back past the stinking river and ash hills and into the pastures. People were running around frantically when she returned. A boy saw her and stared. His slanted black eyes and grey skin reminded her of what she was not. Dread began to creep under her skin and the pony instinctively stopped walking. It hung its head and closed its eyes, refusing to move.
The boy ran off towards the castle.
The clank of armour neared as a royal guardsman walked toward her. He narrowed his eyes and lifted her from the pony’s back. He carried her through the castle, his metal fingers cutting into her skin and making her bleed. He carried her all the way down the hall, then past her room, then into a place she had never been.
The immense hall stretched into the darkness. Her mother sat at the end on a throne of black. The woman’s robes were black, and her skin was the darkest grey the girl had ever seen. Her mother’s obsidian eyes were an abyss that bled hatred.
The guard dropped her in front of the Queen. The nameless girl stayed put on the ground even though her knees ached.
“I had forgotten,” the Queen said. “Your inner-light is too bright.” The Queen’s lip curled.
The nameless girl sat silent. She had never heard her mother’s voice before. It sent a shiver down her spine and made her stomach hurt.
“It has caused me trouble. Take it to the dungeons,” the Queen said to the guard. “It will stay there until the light inside her dies or until I find a new heir. And slaughter the pony.”
The girl didn’t dare cry out for the pony, though she wanted to. Instead, silent tears fell down her cheeks as she stared at the horrible Queen. The metal fingers lifted the princess up again, their points drawing more blood from her skin. The guard marched the princess out of the room. He marched and marched. Down step after step until blackness swallowed the princess whole.
Demons, sorcerers, and criminals filled cells made from iron meant to hold the worst. She heard their moans and howls. She could tell how long a creature had been there by their silence. The newer ones howled and screamed and chanted, hoping for escape. After a few weeks, they grew silent, at least until the ones that were taken and tortured had screams ripped from their lungs.
Sometimes the guards remembered to feed the girl, if only to keep her from dying. The Queen hadn’t ordered her death yet.
She was in the dungeons for so long, her ash coloured dress had rotted away and hung as rags, barely covering her. She became numb to the cold and damp. She developed a wet cough that shook her to her core and made her sides ache.
She could hear the taunts of children through a tiny gap in the dungeon wall that had been sealed with a metal grate. They all tried to see if the rumours of the freakish daughter of the Queen were true. She closed her eyes and listened to their muffled conversations outside the wall, the only break in the endless cycle of silence and screams.
They talked about the daily executions with excitement, describing the details and declaring their favourite executioner. They talked about the elite guard who the Queen favoured. They described the chases through the streets of the town. The guards’ footfalls would start loud and fall silent as they closed in on their prey. When they finally caught their target, they whispered their name before removing their head from their body.
A bit of daylight made its way through the hole each day, casting her cell in horrible shadows and making her wince. Other times, outside the hole the splash of sewage falling to the ground from above gave her a headache. She had long since gone blind to the smell. Occasionally, she glimpsed the dark, gaping maw of the church chimney through the tiny gaps in the grate.
The nameless girl slowly faded away as years passed. Her body should have been growing into a young woman, instead, it was wasting away.
Her dungeon’s door opened. The grind of metal on stone sent her scurrying to the far corner. A bright glow momentarily blinded her. As the girl’s eyes adjusted, a familiar face floated in the darkness. A single candle burned in her lady-in-waiting’s hand, on her arm was a green dress.
The lady-in-waiting had grown up and was tall.
“Here,” she said, throwing the dress at the nameless girl. “Hurry and put this on. The Queen is holding a ball to announce your cousin as heir. They seal the arrangement in your blood.”
The nameless girl pulled the dress on, unable to close it at the back. It was small, ill-fitting, but better than nothing. It covered a lot more than the princess had been covered in a long time. The silky fabric started to add warmth to her skin and it prickled painfully.
The nameless girl stared at the lady-in-waiting, confused.
“Hurry up now,” the lady-in-waiting said. “You’re my friend and I don’t want to hurt you.” The corner of her lip twitched.
The nameless girl followed the candle up through a tunnel that exited to the main street. Her legs hurt from the exertion and she breathed heavily.
“Go on,” the lady-in-waiting said. She put a hand on the princess’ back and pushed her into the greyness of the afternoon. The nameless girl’s feet stumbled over themselves as sensation returned to them.
© 2018 Catherine Milos