During King Merfyn the Second’s reign, there was an event which changed Felicity forever. There are instances where history can be shady; when it’s hard to tell truth from lie. The attempted assassination of Merfyn the Second was one of those instances.
The details are a blur and over the centuries, new theories have popped up as to what really happened. This is my spin on things.
King Merfyn the Second was having a pretty great day, you know, leading meetings and eating delicious food, hanging out with his good-looking family–all that fancy, royal stuff. In the afternoon, he had the fabulous idea of going for a picnic with his wife, leaving his twins and daughter under a maid’s supervision. The twins, one boy and one girl, also had a fabulous idea: to follow their parents.
Back then, the rulers lived in a large building in the Whispering Woods where there was lots of privacy and space. King Merfyn led his lovely young wife into a nice clearing in the Woods. They ate a big meal and drank a little, unaware that they were being followed by the twins.
The twins loved the taste of freedom, but were terribly grossed out by the inappropriate things their parents were doing, which I won’t horrify you with by mentioning. The twins set out and wandered around the woods.
Meanwhile, the king and queen lay down on their backs and enjoyed the warm sunlight that reached them in the little clearing. With the heat and the company of each other, they soon fell asleep. That’s when a cloaked figure emerged out from behind a tree at the edge of the clearing and approached the sleeping pair. The figure moved stealthily like a lion about to pounce on its prey.
The figure was inches away from the two when the queen suddenly felt a motherly instinct. She woke with a start. She had a feeling that her children were in danger. Then she realised that her husband’s life was in danger and, grabbing his sword from the scabbard, was just able to deflect the dagger. The king awoke and the cloaked figure, realising the futility of the mission, fled and disappeared into the trees.
The queen urged the king to return to the castle and after arguing for a while and ruining what was meant to be a perfect afternoon, the pair walked back. They walked quickly as though they were in a race competing against time itself.
Upon arriving at their home, they were met with the bewildered maid who was supposed to be looking after their three children. She only had one child with her and was holding the child’s hand. “I can’t find them!” she cried. “Forgive me!”
The queen, gripped by fear, ran frantically around their home calling out her children’s names but they were nowhere to be found. The king interrogated the maids and the guards but they hadn’t seen the twins.
No one would ever see the twins again. They had disappeared for good. The queen was devastated but was even more protective of the daughter she was left with. The king never stopped blaming himself for taking only his wife out for a picnic. There was a period of depression after the prince and the princess went missing.
Finally, a minister of the court proposed the formation of an organisation. They would call themselves The Defenders and their job was to, you guessed it, defend the monarchy and what it stood for. Only the bravest and smartest would be chosen to be a part of this organisation.
Initially, the organisation was kept a secret but a secret doesn’t stay so for long on a small island. Soon word got out about this prestigious organisation and it was almost every child’s dream to someday play a role in protecting the monarchy.
It used to be considered a huge honour to be a Defender but today, it’s seen as more of a joke. No one’s attacked the monarchy and there are more practical and important jobs to do. But that’s what the Felicians fail to understand. There’s always something going on. The only reason those events don’t come to light is because we make sure they are dealt with immediately.
We dealt, immediately, with everyone who posed a threat to our rulers until the smuggling of weapons and the masked protesters happened. At first, it seemed as though we were losing our touch but it was quickly evident that this wasn’t so. Our enemy was smarter than us. Our enemy was one step ahead of us. Our enemy was simply toying with us. The biggest scheme of all was yet to happen and I can tell you, the kidnapped children were merely an experimental diversion.
Hayden’s jaw dropped when the doors of the enclosed space were opened outward and sunlight flooded in. He had guessed right when he had been blindfolded. He was in a truck. But in such an unfamiliar place. It was very sandy but the sand ended quickly to give way to trees and more trees and even more trees.
The people whom Hayden had heard speaking multiple times during the journey were standing at the door. They were soon joined by two other men whom the woman gave orders to.
“Ropes!” she said in her raspy voice. “Tie them!”
Two men held ropes while the third lifted a small boy out and tied one of his ankles with a complicated looking knot. One by one, each child was lifted out and the same rope was tied around one of their ankles so that they were bound together.
Hayden heard an outburst of laughter as a girl was lifted down. She didn’t look that much younger than him like all the others did.
When it was Hayden’s turn, the three men burst out laughing again. “Io, what were you thinking when you brought him along?” one of them said.
“I told you, Io,” the man with the high-pitched voice said.
“Shut up, Earl,” said the woman. “Get to work.”
“There’s no way I’m lifting him down.”
“It’s okay,” said Hayden, smiling brightly for the sake of the children who were looking anxiously at him. “I can get down myself.” He jumped down and nearly lost his footing in the sand. As soon as his feet touched the ground, the three men immediately held him down, preventing him from running away. Hayden had no intention of running anyway. There was no way he was going to leave all these children alone with such terrible people.
Before him, Hayden saw the short- haired girl looking around her. “Hi,” he whispered. She turned around wide-eyed as if she was surprised to be talked to. Hayden could see himself reflected in her glasses which were upside down on her nose. “I’m Hayden.”
“No talking!” screeched the woman in her rough voice. “I want absolute silence! I hear one more sound and I will cut your tongues out!”
Hayden saw that Jo turned around immediately and kept as still as possible. He noticed that everyone else had a similar reaction to her’s. There was absolute silence and absolute stillness except for Io and Earl’s conversation.
“Do you really think this is the best place to hide the children?” asked Earl with an air of doubt.
“No one has entered the Whispering Woods for over a century, idiot,” snapped Io, clearly losing her patience.
“And why is that?”
“Because it’s haunted.”
“So why are we here?”
“Because I don’t think it’s haunted.” Io strode confidently to the front of the line of twenty children.
“Very reassuring,” muttered Earl under his breath. “You two–spread yourselves out. Make sure the back is covered,” he told the other men.
Io led them into the dense woods. As soon as they entered, Hayden felt as lost as a needle in a haystack. He kept his eyes peeled thinking of a possible escape route but everything was so confusing, crowded, dense and thick that he gave up trying after about two minutes.
The trees rustled and there seemed to be thousands of voices speaking into the soft wind that rustled the leaves. On top of that, it was difficult to walk in sync with everyone else. A rope connected all the children by being tied to one of their ankles. Since Hayden was far taller than all the others, he had to walk at an extremely slow and uncomfortable pace. He nearly tripped on Jo’s heel thrice but kept moving sluggishly forward.
Earl and the other two men, whom Hayden learnt were called Edred and Brason, didn’t make walking any easier by taunting the children and occasionally making them trip over on purpose.
As Hayden looked all around him, he couldn’t help thinking that everything looked the same from all directions. How is Io even navigating? He would have had to spend at least a decade in the Woods to even find his way around a quarter of it. I can tell you from experience that the Woods aren’t as complicated as they seem. The thick foliage is what really turns people away. I’ve lived here in the Woods for a while now and they aren’t as intimidating and haunted as people think.
I’m not entirely sure how the rumour of the Woods being a haunted area started but I can tell you that when I was younger, my mother used to always threaten me with the Whispering Woods. “If you don’t beat that Neola-girl on that test, the spirits of the Woods will come and haunt you. If they don’t, I will personally fetch them and ensure that you have been properly punished.”
Once my dear old mother even said, “Anything less than a hundred on your final exams and it’s off to the Whispering Woods for you, young man!”
Ah, those were the days.
Anyway, Hayden soon found that they were being led to the ruins of a building. Most of it had crumbled down or was in the process of deteriorating. The parts which were still standing shakily were made of dark stone. To his surprise, Io kept moving forward through a door frame which hadn’t collapsed with the rest of the wall of that side. All the children followed suit. Io stopped abruptly and started tapping her foot near a raised surface. It was covered with moss and would have camouflaged with the background if not for the wide handle on top of it. Earl, Brason and Edred hurried towards Io. They each grabbed a part of the rusting handle and pulled upwards. It took them three tries to finally open it. All this time, Io glared at the ankle-bound children. It was enough to scare them.
As the trapdoor opened up, there was a loud gasp from the child who was at the front of the line. Hayden could just make out a dark room below but there must have been something worse to make a child gasp like that. You see, children don’t know a lot about the world whereas adults do, and the more you know, the more afraid you become.
Earl, Brason and Edred pushed the line forward behind Io who walked with her shoulders rolled back and held a lamp in her hand which had been placed on the top stair. She descended down a flight of stairs inside the dark square hole which had been opened up by the trapdoor. As Hayden half tripped-half walked down the stairs, he realised that they were in a large crypt.
Not only that but this place was old. There were mounted torch holders into which Io placed plastic candles which she took out from the pockets of her gown. There were shelves on the wall all lined with skulls which gave Hayden the shivers. Right in the centre of the room was a tomb. There was an engraving on the side but it was too dim for Hayden to read what it said.
The three men forced the children to sit down. It was uncomfortable and stuffy. “What are you going to do with us?” asked Hayden. He was met with a slap to the side of his face by Io.
“I never gave you permission to speak.”
Hayden was about to rub his cheek when he remembered that his hands were bound together with rope.
“Leave them be,” said Io when Edred tried to introduce some sort of organisation in the children’s seating. He followed Io like the other men up the stairs leaving a room full of youngsters and two who were a bit older.
Hayden scanned the crypt for any possible exit to escape from but there was nothing. He couldn’t even slip the rope off of his hands and one ankle. So, he just sat there, feeling more helpless by the second.