Immediately, the mass of people rushed forward towards the man who had made the announcement. Emma noticed that there were guards standing around the man, desperately trying to contain the crowd. It wasn’t the most efficient method of managing such a large gathering of people but the public announcement had been a last-minute decision.
When the crowd realised that any attempt at getting their hands on the speaker was futile, they yelled out questions, their voices clashing against each other.
“How did he die?”
“Who killed him?”
“Yeah, tell us! How did he pass away?”
How, how, how? That was the question which was repeated the most often.
Beside Emma and Charlie, Neola groaned. “No, not him.”
“What do you mean?” asked Charlie but he was ignored. He noticed that Neola was scanning the crowd as if she was searching for someone. She mustn’t have found who she was looking for because she looked even more disgruntled than before.
Emma looked around, disgust on her face at being surrounded by so many clamouring people. It didn’t help that the smell of sweat was diffused into the usual pristinely clean air of the castle grounds. “Can we get out of here?” The smell was overpowering. Breathing in through her nose was horrific; breathing in through her mouth wasn’t any better because she felt as though she could taste the people’s sweat on her tongue. So, Emma simply held her breath for as long as possible.
“I’m with Emma on this one,” said Charlie. He wasn’t as affected by the smell but he was feeling slightly claustrophobic.
“No,” replied Neola, finally meeting Charlie and Emma’s eyes. “I need to meet an old friend of mine.”
“An old friend?”
Felicity had had a king ruling over for as long as anyone could remember—which was a pretty long time. The first people had continued the tradition of having a monarchy as its government but not everything about it was old.
The castle, for instance, was a relatively new addition, only a hundred years old, which explained why it was placed at the end of Felicity’s main island. The cobblestoned courtyard was surrounded by a layer of grass which was surrounded by the towers of the castle itself. There was a guard stationed at each of the three gates and every door. Most of them had stony expressions on their light-blue faces but there were three apprentices who couldn’t stop fidgeting on the spot, twiddling their thumbs and looking here and there.
The towers and the keep were made out of smooth stone. Emma gazed around in awe. She could hear the sound of the ocean crashing against shore behind the wall behind the keep. It made her feel uneasy to know that they were so close to the beach. Was this really the best location for a castle? Her answer was a definite no but, much like you, she was oblivious to the rich history of the land so it’s understandable that she felt this way.
She hurried after Neola and Charlie. They were waiting for her at the bottom of a short flight of stairs which led to a huge arched doorway. Neola walked rapidly through the arch, up a longer flight of stairs, turning left, then right, then right, then left, and then right again.
Emma and Charlie barely had enough time to let the grandeur of the castle sink in. The floors were covered with rich red carpets designed with elaborate patterns in gold. Tapestries hung on the walls. A ship sailing on wild seas, a group of islands, the crowning of a king with dark red hair, and marshes were just some that Emma had a chance to catch a glimpse of.
When they had rounded one corner, Emma thought she saw two large grey eyes peering at her but she couldn’t have been sure. They disappeared as soon as she saw them and she shrugged it off. She thought that she must have imagined them.
They stopped at a narrow corridor at the end of which had a tapestry so long it extended all the way from the floor to the ceiling. The tapestry was of a river running through a valley filled with bright purple and yellow flowers. Neola looked around her, making sure that the passing guards didn’t catch sight of her. Then she hurried to the tapestry, pulled it aside and pushed the wall behind it.
Charlie watched, his mouth threatening to drop open, as a narrow door as thin as the tapestry opened up and led into a storage room with a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling.
They found themselves face to face with a graceful woman with ochre skin and caramel eyes. Her dark hair was coiled neatly in a bun which made her look older than she actually was. She contrasted greatly with Neola.
Where Neola was soft, she was hard.
Where Neola was expressive, she was inexpressive.
Where Neola was youthful, she was overly mature.
It was a wonder that two people so different from each other could appear to be the best of friends.
Neola greeted her with a hug as Emma and Charlie watched awkwardly from the side. It was as if Neola had forgotten about them. The two women talked animatedly in low voices.
Charlie and Emma missed the majority of their conversation. It wasn’t until Neola started getting agitated that she spoke louder.
“How did this happen? What are we going to do, Celicia?”
“The monarchy has always supported the Defenders! Now we won’t be able to get anything done!”
“Neola, you’ve still got me on your side. Calm down and tell me who these lovely young people are.” The woman gestured grandly to Emma and Charlie, the latter taking a step back. Her gaze swivelled to the boy and he felt an immense hatred wake inside of him. He distrusted her but for what he didn’t know. There was something in her eyes which didn’t seem genuine. They were deep, fathomless pools with many secrets stowed away. On top of that, he was feeling claustrophobic again.
“Charlie, Emma,” said Neola. “This is Princess Celicia—King Merfyn’s daughter.”