The Clock Tower Guardian Chapter 2
The best way to get the guards out of the courtyard would be to distract them and draw their attention somewhere else. That meant a diversion.
That was all well and good, but diversions are rather difficult to pull off without someone helping you. I bit my lip and thought. What would be the easiest way to do this on my own?
An idea came to me slowly and I mulled it over in my mind for a bit. It was plausible, but risky. Then again, anything I tried at this point was risky. I suppose I really only had to worry about whether or not anyone would get killed over it. I wasn’t really sure why I was worried about that since not a single soul in the palace had ever been kind to me, but I was. Horrible as they had always been to me, I didn’t actually want any of them dead... except maybe Taliya... but only maybe.
With a soft sigh, I pushed myself off the wall and jogged back the direction I had come, heading for storage rooms where extra servants’ clothing was kept. Once there, I quickly dug for and found a long brown cloak, which I donned before heading for the royal wing of the palace.
It wasn’t a place I liked going. Except for the few times Sefron had invited me to it, I had nothing but horrible memories there. It was the center of Taliya’s domain and I had spent many unpleasant days there under whatever tyrannical whim she happened to be having.
I paused as I reached the first of the royal halls and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. As I did, a small smile crept onto my face as I envisioned what I was about to do. The smile took on a mischievous tilt. As they say, two birds with one stone.
Slipping through the shadows of the glowing lanterns, I made my way down the hall to a room I knew well, and not for a single good reason. The Princess’s chambers were set on the west side of the royal wing so that the sun rising in the morning would never disturb her beauty sleep.
There was no light coming from under the door and I listened carefully until I was sure there was no one awake. I slowly opened the door, praying it wouldn’t creak. When it was open just enough for me to get in, I slipped through and crept forward.
I had to suppress a laugh. Taliya was making this far too easy. The Princess loved real candlelight. I suppose she considered herself some sort of beautiful, romantic heroine who had every man head-over-heels in love with her and she felt the need to surround herself with candlelight whenever possible. As a consequence, there were candles lite all around the sitting room and I knew there would be more in her other rooms as well. This would be as far as I needed to go though.
Debating my options carefully, I chose the candelabra nearest the main window with it’s draping purple curtains and pink trim. As quickly and quietly as I could, I tilted the candelabra so it leaned against the curtains and watched for only a moment as it caught on fire.
Then I dashed out, closing the door silently, and ran back the way I had come as fast as my feet would carry me. I reached the west courtyard door and only paused long enough to pull the hood up to hide my face before I charged out, pitching my voice higher as I yelled.
“Fire! Fire! There’s a fire in the royal wing! Someone help! Help! Fire!”
The guards, after a moment of shock, were galvanized into action by the officer in charge’s shout.
“Get moving! Put it out! Make sure the King and Princess are safe! Move, move, move!”
They all charged for the main door, except for the officer, who stopped and grabbed my arm.
“Why didn’t you alert the guards in the north courtyard?” he demanded. “They’re closer than we are.”
“What?” I asked, still pitching my voice higher and keeping my face shadowed by the hood. “What do you mean? Isn’t this...? Oh no! I’m so muddled!”
I shook my head as if in confusion and managed to shake off the officer’s grip at the same time. I held my head and moaned.
“Oh no! I’m so stupid! I panicked and got my directions all muddled! Oh no! The Princess!”
I grabbed the Elf’s arm, as though in desperation.
“Save the Princess, sir! Please!”
“The Princess? Why didn’t you say so sooner, you fool?”
He shook me off with a scowl and quickly followed his men inside to rescue the damsel in distress. I turned away with a snicker and, making sure the coast was clear, I headed for the main gate and slipped out through the smaller door set in it. Closing it securely behind me, I took a deep breath of freedom and then I began jogging again.
I had no destination and I didn’t know what was ahead, but it had to be better than this hell had been.
Not far from the palace, the forest began. I had never been very deep into it and I don’t think many Elves had. The trees were giant and ancient, looming above me like guardians and I felt a strange sense of peace surround me the further I went. As the second and third moons rose, I paced myself, switching back and forth between jogging and walking. Then, as the sun began peeking over the horizon, I found a giant that looked climbable and scaled it, settling myself down among the branches.
I dug out jerky and dried fruit from my pack, eating quickly before I leaned back against the tree trunk and closed my eyes. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep and I woke when the sun was low on the horizon.
Not giving myself time to think, I ate some bread and cheese before climbing down and resuming my walking and jogging toward the sunset. Sooner or later I was bound to run into some sort of civilization and surely, as long as they weren’t Elves, they would be friendly. At least that’s what I kept telling myself whenever the questions popped into my head.
Slowly, the questions faded from my mind and the further into the woods I went, the more I could feel something changing in the air. It was something I had never felt before, but it seemed old and familiar. It made me feel small, but safe, like resting in the palm of a giant that you knew would protect you at all costs.
My days fell into a pattern after that. I slept during the day and traveled at night, guided by the moon and stars. I had read plenty about how to navigate at night and it was exciting to finally be able to use something I had learned and put it into practice.
I was about a week out and my food supplies were running low. Apparently I had picked the one direction to head with no civilization nearby.
Oddly though, I wasn’t worried. The forest felt like home and the trees my long lost friends. there didn’t seem to be anything that could hurt me while I was here.
On night number eight, I could sense that I wasn’t alone anymore. There was something following me. It wasn’t hostile, just curious, so I didn’t try and stop it. If followed me the whole night, though I saw nothing of it. When day came and I found a tree to sleep in, I sensed it settling down nearby to wait.
Night nine I ate the last of my food and simply had to pray I would come across civilization in the next couple days since I had never read anything about foraging and didn’t know the first thing about what would kill me and what wouldn’t.
As sunrise was just starting to color the black of night, I began looking for another good tree to sleep in. Making my choice, I went to climb it and was nearly startled into falling when I heard a squawk of protest. I pulled back from the tree and looked around for the source of the displeasure. Seeing and hearing nothing more though, I moved toward the tree again and there was another squawk of protest. I pulled back once more and shrugged. Maybe someone had already claimed this tree.
Glancing around, I moved to my second choice tree, but before I could even begin climbing this time, there was an even louder squawk. I looked up and around, hands on my hips and scowling fiercely at my hiding follower. I was tired and I wanted to sleep.
“What do you want?” I demanded.
The trees remained silent and when I received no answer, I began climbing the tree. There was a protesting squawk once more, but this time I ignored it and didn’t stop.
“Either tell me what you want or I’m going to sleep!” I called as the squawking continued.
Then an upside down head poked out of the branches right in front of me. I squeaked in surprise and nearly lost my grip. Clinging to the tree desperately, I put a hand over my racing heart as I studied the head.
It was a Bird. The eyes were big, bright blue, and intelligent as they starred back at me. The head feathers were a sea blue and the bird’s plume was a bright green that began fading into yellow as it reached the neck, which was long and disappeared further up into the foliage of the tree. It’s beak was a deep, bright orange and curved gracefully, making me think perhaps the Bird was female.
I watched it expectantly, but after a few more moments of silence I sighed.
“Well? If you have something to say spit it out already. Or have you been following me this whole time just so you could pop out and scare me?”
The Bird cocked it’s head and blinked at me. I was about to demand an answer once more, but as I opened my mouth, the Bird’s head shot back up into the tree and disappeared from sight.
I blinked rapidly and then heard a cooing sound coming from the ground. Looking down, I saw that the Bird was standing at the base of the tree, urging me to come down. Her body feathers faded from sea blue to a deep rich blue further down her body and the plume expanded down her back, going from yellow to orange and then to red on her tail feathers. Her wings faded from deep blue to purple to red at the tips. She was a magnificent sight.
She cooed at me again and motioned me down with her long neck. I took the hint and climbed down. Standing next to her I could see that she was large enough to carry two or three people easily.
Once I was on the ground again, she moved well out of my reach, shying away just a bit, but kept motioning me to follow her. With a shrug, I did. After all, why not? A Bird wasn’t the type of creature to harm others and she had followed me for a while now and not done anything nasty to me. Besides, she clearly knew something I didn’t. Maybe somewhere more populated? She must know I was out of food.
She led the way, doing a little hop-fly step rather than simply walking ahead of me or flying above. I had read about Birds, but I had never seen one. They were said to be gentle, shy creatures, though fiercely loyal and curious. They didn’t often have contact with other species simply because of their shy natures, but each had various powers and abilities. None of the books I had ever read said what their powers might be though, which made me wonder what this Bird could do. Could she actually speak? Or did she use telepathy? Did all Birds use telepathy or could some speak others not? Could some do both and some do neither? Did they have names?
I bit my tongue to keep the questions from spilling out and completely scaring the shy thing away. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I was far too interested in her and where she was taking me now. I wanted to know. I had to know.
Finally she stopped and looked back at me expectantly. I could tell there was something other than trees up ahead, but I couldn’t make it out.
I moved forward so that I was level with her and she backed away from me, keeping well out of reach. I smiled gently.
“I wouldn’t hurt you.”
She nodded and her gaze clearly said, ‘I know’.
“Thank you. For whatever this is,” I said, gesturing ahead.
The Bird dipped her head, almost as though she were curtsying, and then nodded for me to go forward. With one final look and grateful smile, I moved forward, making my way to the edge of the trees, where I paused to let my eyes adjust to the extra light coming from the sunrise.
Then I looked up and froze in my tracks.