Hi, everyone! So this installment takes a bit of a different turn as we step into a new point of view! From now on, the chapters will designate which character’s viewpoint we’re seeing from, and this story will rotate between Raff, Althea, and the prince (who we have yet to meet;)’s points of view. Enjoy!
The Audaxi Chronicles: Chapter 5
Three hours of bloodied hands, muttering spells, and wrapping bandages later, Althea washes her hands in a basin and admires her handiwork. The Highland prince sleeps painlessly, sweaty and bloody and pale, but alive. His wound is still bad, but the clean white bandages are holding it in, and the pus has stopped. The inflammation had been bad, the worst she’s seen, but she supposes if you’re going to assassinate the prince, you’d want to make it bad.
One of the servants, a pretty girl with a round face, takes the basin of bloody water from her, and Althea turns to the physician. Galen is wiping his brow with a handkerchief, thin white hair wet with nervous sweat.
“Thank you, Enchantress.” He says. His voice is so serious, so genuine, without any trace of doubt, the way only an elder could be. “You saved him. You brought him back from the dead. It was beyond anything I could do. A miracle, truly.”
Heat rises to her cheeks despite herself. “Please, physician, if you hadn’t already been treating him, miracles couldn’t have helped him.”
The room seems cooler, and glancing out the tall window, she can’t see a thing, and she wonders what time it is. Ensuring the physician will stay with the patient, Althea heads out the bedchamber door into the next room, where the previously crowded room has been emptied.
The only remainder is Raffym, slouched fast asleep in front of the fireplace, his chest gently rising and falling. She stares for a few seconds, wondering not for the first time why this kid was sent with the task of looking for a savior. He could not be more than sixteen, and asleep he looks even younger.
Her boots echo softly in the chamber as she walks out, through the open door and into the hall. The castle is wonderful, with gorgeous grey stone and colored glass windows and ornate furniture. In the hall, she notices two soldiers stand at the prince’s door, when before there had been those two men in blue.
The soldiers stare straight ahead, and she gives them a small, awkward nod as she walks to one of the tall windows a little ways down the hall.
Through the lightly red-colored glass, she can see the lights of the city below, twinkling candles drifting down the mountain. The lights circle the castle, and the castle’s own light seem to swirl around her as well. Firelight from atop both the castle wall and the city wall separate the peak. Looking out, she tries to see the horizon, imagining how the view must be in the daytime.
“Breathtaking, isn’t it?”
A voice jerks her out of the inset window pane, and she looks around to see the Highland King standing about a foot away from her. Now that she’s able to take a calmer look at him, she thinks that he does not look how she expected. Although, she’s not sure what she expected.
He has more lines on his face then she thought, she supposes. He’s tall, about a head taller than her, with thinning auburn hair and wide green eyes. His cheekbones were remarkable; likely back in the day he had been quite something to look at. But as with everyone eventually, tips of grey and the gravity of age reached him.
He stands absurdly straight, as only a royal would. The crown atop his head, the Highland crown, shines with silver bands interweaving in a vertical pattern, looking almost like tree branches. That was different, too; she had expected more glamour and pomp. The king wears a simple, long shirt of the Highland red with trousers and boots, a few jewels shining on his fingers and around his neck.
“Yes,” Althea says, with a smile on her lips, “the beauty of the world seems to go unnoticed far too often.”
The king lets out an airy laugh, one that seemed to once be booming but faded with time. Sudden realization hits her that maybe she should be bowing or curtsying or something, but then again, it’s probably a little late for that.
Then, for the first time, she sees tiny wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and his smile is strained. Oh, right.
“Oh,” she says, her voice a little too loud in the echoing hallway chamber, “he’s going to be fine.”
He visibly relaxes and sighs, pressing his fingers against his forehead in an extremely un-kingly fashion. In that moment, she doesn’t see the king of Highland but…someone. A real person. Not an entity that fills the antagonist position in stories the Vaga children hear at night.
Suddenly, Althea finds it a little hard to breathe, and she turns back to the window, to the city below. The king steps up next to her on her right, his reflection stealing a glance or two in her direction.
After a minute, he says softly, “Thank you.”
His voice cracks a little, but then he continues. “I know you did not have to. In fact, I never thought you would. I had….lost all hope.”
She’s not too sure what to say to that. In her mind, she flashes back a few years, when she stood in front of another father in a very different situation. Shuddering, her body tries to bring her mind back to the present.
“Well,” she says, “I’m a healer. To be taught by a mage and not use the skills would be a waste.”
Althea shifts back to the king, giving him a sly smile.
“Regardless, I am forever indebted to you, Enchantress.” He says solemnly, and she almost can’t believe he said that. “The most handsome reward for you. Whatever you ask, you will have.”
She gives an airy laugh, one that bounces against the stone and down the hallway. The king’s mouth cracks into a smile, almost as of its own accord.
“Oh, no.” Althea shakes her head. “I don’t take rewards. Not for helping others, for doing what’s right. At most, a bed and a meal are fit for me.”
He seems startled at that, with his eyes widening slightly and his mouth opening slightly. She wonders for a minute what exactly he must think of her. A Vaga who willingly came to the middle of the Highlands to save the Highland King’s royal bloodline, the same bloodline that conquered and drove out the Vaga, all while instilling a deep hatred in its people against hers. But she had come.
He obviously thought she might had come simply due to the inevitable offer of a hefty reward. After, of course, thinking she had come to end his bloodline instead of saving it.
Then, suddenly his face turns stern, mouth forming into a firm line and thick eyebrows furrowing.
“You misunderstand.” He says. “A debt like this…I cannot leave it unpaid.”
The meaning behind those words are clear to her. As the Highland King, he cannot simply allow the girl who saved the prince’s life to be unpaid, considering asking in this moment lets him control the situation, both what she asks for and what the court will whisper in response.
Giving him a nod and another smile, she says a simple, “Ah.” Then, she puts on a pretty good display of thinking, tilting her head and scrunching up her nose. The king’s face relaxes, and he even gives a little snort. To be honest, nothing that the Highland King could offer is of any use to her. He could offer power, or wealth, or a number of titles, or long-abandoned lands and castles.
Then, a small raindrop of an idea falls into her head, and within seconds, a full rainstorm pours and grinds in her brain, and her mouth slowly spreads into a smile.
“Surprisingly, I can think of something.” Turning to the king with bright eyes, she studies him for a minute. His bright green Highlander eyes flicker in the low light of the hallway, and standing this close, she can see the ridges and spots on his skin. She wonders if she will ever stop feeling a little drop of surprise in her stomach at the many reminders that the king is actually a person.
“What you can do for me,” she says, “is to adjust the relationship between our people.”
He makes that face of surprise again, this time with a hint of suspicion in his eyes.
She continues brightly. “When I came here, I ignored the warnings of most of the Vaga. The hatred stemmed between our peoples has gone on too long. And hatred helps no one.”
Giving him a pointed look, she adds, “It certainly wouldn’t have helped your son.”
I hope you enjoyed this part! Please leave a like or a comment, and share with your friends!