By Nicole DiIorio (Sun Valley High School)
The clock in the hall chimed one. Slowly, I slid out of bed and pulled on my dressing gown. My door creaked as I pulled it open and looked down the hall. No one was awake; Mother and Father were snoring loudly. As I crept by her door, I heard my little sister, Grace Ella, breathing slowly.
I crept down the stairs, careful not to make a sound. I was halfway towards the door when a voice across the foyer caused me to skid to a halt.
“Mistress Vivien? Where are you going? It’s one o’clock in the morning!” exclaimed May-Anne.
My mother’s maid must have heard my door creak open.
“I…I’m going to…to uh…”
“Mhm,” huffed May-Anne. “Sneaking out in the dead of night! I told your mother she ought to watch you more closely. Ought to get you another Care-Woman, that’s what I said.”
“May-Anne, I don’t need another Care-Woman! Charity and Sadie are plenty! I’m fifteen anyway, I hardly need them both!”
“Mistress Vivien, go back to bed right now, or I shall call your mother.” May-Anne said through clenched teeth.
I made a quick decision. “Fine. Good night May-Anne.”
I turned on my heel and walked swiftly up the staircase. When I was about halfway up, I hid in the shadows, watching May-Anne continue her work. She polished tables and scrubbed the floor, making sure to get every last tile. And as if to take up even more time, she arranged and rearranged all the flowers and vases in the foyer, polished all of the sconces, and cleaned every window. As she worked, May-Anne muttered to herself, mostly about me and all the trouble I caused. It was almost 2 o’clock when she finished. Sighing contently, May-Anne made her way to the servants’ quarters.
I held my breath as I crept down the stairs. I paused behind the heavy oak doors. I pushed it open quietly and stepped outside.
The cool autumn wind blew my long blonde hair behind me. I took a deep breath and padded across the lush, manicured lawn. When I looked back at the manor, there was not a light nor a soul emanating life from within.
I pulled the crumpled piece of paper out of my pocket. The note had been delivered to me early yesterday morning. An unknown courier had brought it to the manor. It read:
The door in the woods will lead you to the treasure.
3 o’clock tomorrow morning.
After this, there was a list. Number one said DECIEVE. I had puzzled over its meaning all day. Now I understood it; I deceived May-Anne. The rest of the list was also puzzling, especially the last three: BETRAY, WAR, DEATH. Those were the ones that scared me the most.
Shivering in the night wind, I made my way to the woods. It was dark and quiet when I entered.
I knew the door the writer spoke of. Almost every child living in Carson knew it. The door was attached to a shed. It was wooden and old, older than my grandfather. It was said to be haunted by the founder of Carson, Robert Carson, and his wife Ellen. No one dared to peek inside, but I was never afraid of it. I’m hardly ever afraid. However, I did not know what the writer meant by treasure. The legend never mentioned a treasure hidden in the shed.
I walked some more, squinting my eyes to see everything more than a yard away. I shivered, wishing I had brought a cloak instead of my thin dressing gown. But sadly, the cloak closet door squeaks when opened. May-Anne or another servant would have heard it open for sure. Then I would never make it out.
I was drawing closer to the clearing where I knew the shed was. Suddenly I saw it. Moonlight shone through the trees, illuminating the clearing and the old shed. Cautiously, I approached it. I realized how dangerous this was: a young girl walking alone in the woods at night all because of a mysterious letter written by an unknown person. I pushed all thoughts of danger out of my mind. I was standing right in front of the door now. The wind blew harder and I drew my dressing gown closer around me. My hand reached towards the door of its own accord. It grasped the large iron handle and pulled.
I’m not quite sure what happened after that. All I remember is a blinding flash of dazzling white light. I was thrown back onto the ground. I shielded my eyes and crawled away from the shed. The light subsided and I opened my eyes.
The shed was still there, and I was still in a clearing, but it was daylight, and definitely not the Manor Woods. Startled, I stood up and walked towards the shed. My hand reached out again to grab the handle.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
I yelped and turned around. A boy was walking towards me, maybe my age or a few years older.
“Who are you?” I asked, taking a few steps back.
“I’m sorry if I frightened you. My name is Patrick. You are Vivien, correct?”
“I…I…yes I am.” I said apprehensively. “How did you know that?”
“I know almost everything about what goes on in Leven.” He replied vaguely.
“Leven? I’ve never heard of that before.”
“No, most people haven’t. I suppose it’s because Leven doesn’t exist. Or rather, people don’t believe it exists. You see, Leven is a magic world, on the brink of war. And that’s why you’re here.”
“Me? But I don’t even know how I got here! Besides, magic doesn’t exist. I must be dreaming.”
I was suspicious. Patrick seemed nice, but this was all too odd for me. Suddenly I remembered the list:
I had already deceived May-Anne when I snuck out. I had met Patrick and now I was suspicious; he seemed to know that I was coming and insisted that I was in some sort of fairytale world. Something supernatural was definitely going on here.
“Don’t worry Vivien,” said Patrick. “I’m here to help you. But you must be the one to convince King Richard not to wage war on the neighboring kingdom of Moran.”
“Why me?” I asked, still dazed and confused. “I’m not from Leven or Moran! I’m from Carson!”
“Vivien, may I ask you something?”
“Were you worried about what you would find at the door?”
“Yes, but my curiosity overrode the worry.”
“So you did not think anything dangerous was going to happen?”
My head hurt. “I, uh…well I certainly didn’t want anything dangerous to happen, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Patrick seemed content with my answer, although I was still thoroughly confused. Patrick led me through the woods, talking about King Richard, Leven, and Moran.
Golden leaves glittered in the trees. The grass was greener than in Carson, more lush and beautiful. We passed by a pond and I gasped. Nymphs rose to the surface and stared at us as we walked by. They were all female, with blue skin and blue hair. Their eyes were as blue as the sky. A young one waved shyly at me. Slowly comprehending what I was seeing, I waved back. I had never seen such beautiful creatures before. The rising sun reflected off of the crystal clear water, bathing everything in a bright light. I heard birds in the distance, filling the world with their cheerful morning songs. Once, I swore I saw a little elf. He couldn’t have been more than three feet high, with white whiskers and bright red hat.
My arms were going numb, as were my feet and face. I knew the tips of my ears would be red by now. My dressing gown had fallen off during my transportation and my thin dress was no match for the autumn wind. My teeth chattered. Patrick stopped and put his cloak around my shoulders. I blushed, but said thank you and pulled it tightly around my body. It smelled like cinnamon.
We continued walking and talking. I found myself telling him about Carson, about Mother and Father, Grace Ella, and how I always seemed to be in trouble. Patrick told me that he had no parents, his oldest brother Michael looked after him and the five younger ones, and how he was part of the organization that brought me here.
“We’re called Beneath.”
“Why is that?”
“Because we answer the question, ‘What lies beneath?’”
I must have looked confused because Patrick explained further.
“We feel that the townsfolk and village people have a right to know what’s really going on in the castle. We tell them more than they get when King Richard makes an announcement. We help them see what’s really going on in Leven. We help them see what lies beneath the trickery and fallacies presented to them by King Richard and his court.”
I nodded as I digested this information. Patrick continued.
“King Richard told the people that we will not wage a war on Moran. However, we have reason to believe that he is lying, that war will begin at any moment. So you are going to find out what lies beneath the huge smirk on his face.”
“That makes…some sense.” I said, “Although I’m still unclear as to why I’m here.”
“Because there is a prophecy:
From a world not our own
A girl named Vivien shall appear
To convince the King
Not to wage war.
She shall answer the question
What lies beneath?
She shall be crowned
With a golden wreath.
“You would have appeared here anyway, but I decided to speed up the process.”
“So you sent the letter and the list! Please, tell me what the list means!”
Patrick looked puzzled. “I’m not sure. It was written under the prophecy. You’ve already reached number four: befriend.”
I looked up at Patrick and smiled. He smiled down at me. I felt myself blushing and looked away.
“Look!” said Patrick. “It’s Leven!”
I looked up. Rising in the distance was a beautiful kingdom. A giant white castle with golden trim and pointed towers dwarfed the town. People milled around the town going in and out of various shops and houses. Hills and farmland spread out from the town. Small villages and farms dotted the green sea of grass. It was breathtaking.
Patrick took my hand and guided me into town. It was just like a fairytale, magic and all. I looked around, drinking in everything I saw. Fire-eaters danced around us, their flames coming close to us then retreating just in time. I smiled.
“Patrick this is amazing! The town is beautiful!”
I looked up to see Patrick’s face hard and stony. He tried to smile at my clear astonishment but failed.
“Patrick? What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Nothing. Into this building, right here.”
Bewildered, I turned into the stone building as directed. I caught a glimpse of the sign hanging overhead: Bennett’s Tavern of Warriors. That was enough to make me nervous. I felt Patrick right behind me, his footsteps in sync with mine, easing my discomfort. The tavern was empty save for the bartender.
“Good morning Patrick.” said the greasy old man.
“Good morning Mr. Bennett, sir.” Patrick placed his hand protectively on my shoulder, steering me towards a door at the far end of the tavern.
“Got a right pretty piece there, eh Patrick?”
Patrick’s grip on my shoulder tightened. “Sorry sir, can’t talk.” He said as he guided me through the door.
“Never liked that man,” Patrick said once we were alone. “Always talking about women as if they were nothing.”
My respect grew for Patrick as we sat down at the table in the middle of the room.
“Now when you meet the King, it will only be you and him in the room. You must say these exact words: Do not wage war on Moran. It will endanger your people and your kingdom.”
“That’s all I say?” I asked.
“Yes. He thinks you are a Prophecy Woman from a far-away land. Hopefully, he’ll listen to you. Do not be tempted by anything he promises to give you: power, money, jewels, what have you. And don’t take any food or drink he offers you. Deliver your message and wait to be dismissed. Do you understand?” Patrick asked.
“Good. Now don’t worry. We won’t be sending you to the king right away. You are scheduled to see him in one week’s time. Until then, you will by studying Leven, Moran, and Marsini, the land of which you are said to have come from.”
“Who will be teaching me?” I asked.
“Myself, a man named Jonathon, and a kind woman from the market, Lady Lydia. They are both members of Beneath. Any other questions before we start?”
“Just one. Where will I be staying?”
“Here, in the Tavern of Warriors. You will share a room with Lady Lydia and Jonathon and I will be in the next room over. The inn part of the tavern is upstairs.”
“But I have nothing with me! No clothes, combs, make-up…”
“I’m sure Lady Lydia has things for you.” Patrick said as he looked thoughtfully at my ratty blonde hair. “Come, let’s get you ready for your lesson.”
Over the next few days, I learned more about three kingdoms than I knew about my own country. It was a wonderful world, much like a fairy tale. And there were fairies. Bright green ones with dresses made of leaves. They were no more than three inches tall, so small I could carry one around with me. During my lessons, they would pull my long hair and sleep on top of Patrick’s head, nestling themselves in his soft brown hair.
As the days wore on, Patrick and I got closer and closer to each other. I felt myself falling for him as our conversations drifted from Leven’s trade routes and more towards our personal lives. I found myself looking for excuses to see him, to touch him, to talk to him. And I knew Patrick felt the same way every time our eyes met.
On the day I was to meet with King Richard, we went to the small room in the tavern. He quickly went through the list of things I was not to do.
“Only relay your message. You’ve only learned about the kingdoms so you can pass the villagers unnoticed. Do not say anything else to King Richard. Do you understand?
“Yes.” I breathed.
His face was close to mine. His brown eyes looked down at me and he smiled. We leaned closer together. I tilted my head up and closed my eyes. The door slammed open.
“Oye! Patrick! We need to get ‘er ready! The Majesty’ll be expectin’ ‘er!”
Patrick took a step back and sighed. I opened my eyes and turned towards the door. Jonathon, my portly but kind and generous teacher, had entered the room.
“Hello.” I said cheerily, trying to hide my embarrassment.
“’Ello m’lady. Jonathon said as he squeezed past me towards the end of the room.
He approached a large dresser in the corner. From it, he pulled out a dark purple dress trimmed in gold and lots of beaded necklaces. He handed them to me.
“’Ere m’lady. Patrick and I will leave you to it. Come out when you’re done,” Jonathon said as he shut the door, leaving me alone in the room.
I quickly took off my blue dress from Carson and threw on this new purple one. The necklaces were heavy around my neck, but I suppose they added to my disguise as a Prophecy Woman. As I was getting changed, I heard Jonathon and Patrick talking.
“…and we’ll enter through the south gate. He’ll never see it coming,” Said Patrick.
“Yes, very good, very good.” answered Jonathon.
I finished and opened the door. They were standing right outside it.
“Well,” I said. “What do you think?”
Patrick gaped at me. “You look…beautiful.” he said.
I blushed. Jonathon led us out of the tavern and into the town. I followed him to the gated entrance of the magnificent castle. There was a set of three golden bells. Jonathon rang them and a uniformed guard appeared.
“State the nature of your visit, please,” said the guard.
“I am here escorting Madame Lucia, a Prophecy Woman from Marsini. She has urgent news for King Richard. He said he would see her today at this time.”
The guard checked a piece of paper in his hand. “Alright. You three may come in.”
He opened the gates and led us inside. Patrick fell into step beside me.
“Do you remember what you are to say, Vivien?” he asked.
“Do not wage war on Moran. It will endanger your people and your kingdom.” I said.
“Correct. Do not say anything else. Not hello, not goodbye, nothing. Do not be tempted by anything he says. Do you understand?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yes. It’s all very simple, I think.”
“It may seem simple Vivien. You’re human, and humans are tempted very easily. Just promise me that you’ll be careful.”
We stopped walking. Jonathon and the guard didn’t seem to notice.
“I promise,” I said.
Tentatively, Patrick put his hands on my waist and pulled me closer to him. I tilted my head up as he leaned down. Our lips met. Happiness flowed through my body as I kissed him. We stayed like that for a moment, then we parted. Patrick still had his hands on my waist.
“Remember,” he whispered, “I’ll be right outside the castle. Don’t be scared.”
I nodded. We embraced one last time, then I hurried down the hall to catch up with Jonathon and the guard. I was dizzy with excitement. The guard led us to a large chamber. He pointed to a chair and told me to have a seat. Then, he took Jonathon and left.
I sat there for a few seconds, lost in my thoughts. The door opened and I stood up. The King entered.
He was a tall man, with dark hair and a faint moustache. He nodded to me and I curtsied, like a lady should. He sat down in the chair opposite me.
“I am King Richard, as you know. You are Madame Lucia, I am told.”
“Excellent, excellent! Well, as is custom, I understand that you cannot talk except to deliver your message. So let’s get on with it.”
King Richard seemed like a nice man. I wondered why Patrick was so leery of him. Nonetheless, I was careful not to say anything lest I be cursed by whatever force controlled my destiny. I stood up.
“Do not wage war on Moran. It will endanger your people and your kingdom.”
I waited to be dismissed. King Richard just looked thoughtfully at me.
“Madame Lucia, would you like something to drink?” he asked.
I remembered Patrick’s warning to not take anything from the King so I shook my head.
“No? Well, I’ll pour you a glass of water anyway, in case you get thirsty.”
King Richard set a glass down in front of me. I didn’t look at it.
“So Madame Lucia,” King Richard began, “You believe I am going to wage war on Moran?”
“And you’re here to advise me against it?”
Again, I nodded.
“Well, I might actually take you seriously, my dear. A peevish group called Beneath has been pleading with me to stop it. I tried to convince them that I had no intention of waging war, but sadly they didn’t believe me. Smart of them. I suppose since you saw a vision, I won’t go through with my plan. Tell me, my dear, what exactly did you see in this vision? Surely you can talk about that.” King Richard leaned forward.
I hesitated. Patrick told me only to say the prophecy, nothing else. However, I didn’t know all of the customs of this world. Were Prophecy Women allowed to speak about their prophecies? King Richard seemed to think so. What if he found out I was a fake if I didn’t talk? I swallowed the lump in my throat and spoke.
“Your Highness, in my vision, I saw a land of devastation,” I began, my head spinning as I thought of what to say. “People dying of foreign diseases, crops withering, droughts, and madness spreading throughout your Kingdom. You sat upon a throne of bones, as the sickness came upon you. A servant, close to death, whispered in your ear, ‘My Lord, unnecessary war has caused this. Your greed is to blame for your people’s annihilation.’ My vision ended with a flaming arrow coming down from the sky and piercing you in the heart.” I finished.
King Richard, instead of looking terrified, merely smiled. “Is that so, Madame Lucia? How very unfortunate…for you! Imposter! Prophecy Women never reveal anything about their visions!” he stood up and smacked me across the face. “Guards! Bind her! I believe Beneath has infiltrated the castle. Lock down every entrance and exit!”
I struggled against the guards. I now realized what number five meant: I had been tempted by the prospect of being found out. I knew a way out of this mess, but it would endanger Patrick. I had to do it. This wasn’t my world and not my problem.
“They’re at the south gate!” I choked out.
King Richard turned to face me.
“Beneath. They’re at the south gate!” I said again.
King Richard gestured to a guard. They had a quick conversation and then the guard left.
“Release her,” ordered King Richard. “And go to the South Gate.” To me he said, “I know you’ve betrayed your friends, my dear, but it hasn’t done you any good. You’ve only postponed your execution. Goodbye my dear. Your execution will be early tomorrow morning. Sleep well.” And with that, King Richard locked me in the room.
I threw myself down on the sofa and wept.
“Patrick,” I wailed, “I’m so sorry! It was number six! I couldn’t help it!”
I sat bolt upright. Patrick was climbing into the room through the window. I ran across the room and threw myself at him.
“Oh Patrick! Why aren’t you at the South gate? I heard you and Jonathon talking…”
Patrick put a finger to my lips. “We meant for you to hear us. We manipulated the prophecy.” As he talked, Patrick took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. “A war will not ensue, rather a small fight between the King’s men and our men. Death does not apply to you or I, for I shall kill the King.”
Now we were running down hallways, up staircases, and around turns, presumably to the south gate. Soon, we reached the fight. King Richard stood aside, watching it. His back was to us.
We were on a balcony overlooking the battle. I was horrified and yet amazed at what I saw. Guards and villagers savagely beat each other. Swords clashed, the sound of metal on metal magnified by the open area. Terrified screams were cut short as was the person’s life from which they came. King Richard seemed to observe it with mild interest.
Patrick approached him, motioning for me to stay back. He drew his sword as he stopped behind King Richard. For some reason, I just could not look away. Slowly Patrick raised his sword, his muscles rippling through his body. I gasped as Patrick began to bring it down. King Richard must have heard me for he turned around and leapt away just in time.
Without a word, he drew his sword and lunged at Patrick. Patrick recovered from his initial shock and side-stepped as he jabbed at the King. King Richard parried it away and took a few steps back, but was blocked from going any farther by a wall.
“This is the end, Your Highness,” said Patrick, advancing. “You always were a cowardly King.”
With one smooth, quick motion, Patrick cut off his head. I turned away as it rolled off the balcony and into the fray. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Patrick, and he looked worried.
“We have to hurry!” he said.
Quickly, we ran out of the castle and into the town. Patrick led me towards the woods.
“Find the door!” he yelled.
I glanced behind me. Guards and dogs were right behind us. I ran as fast as I could. Patrick never left my side.
I saw the door ahead of us. Patrick grabbed my hand, pulling me closer as he reached out and grasped the door’s handle. There was another blinding flash of light.
Suddenly, I was back in the Manor Woods, in the clearing with the door. But this time, Patrick was there with me. It was daylight now. I stood up, as I had been knocked down during the transportation.
Although he was breathing heavily, Patrick looked at me and laughed.
“She shall be crowned with a golden wreath.” He recited as he brushed autumn’s golden leaves out of my long blonde curls.
I chuckled. “Well,” I said. “We each found out what lies beneath. You defeated King Richard, and I proved the Robert Carson myth wrong.”
I looked at the door, wondering about its mysterious ways.
Patrick took a step closer to me. “And love. Love lies beneath it all.”
Patrick kissed me again. As I entwined my fingers in his brown hair, I mentally added a number nine to the prophetical list: LOVE.