I do have a bit of an outline done—that is to say, I wrote down the bare bones of ten scenes and made allowances for sequels to come between those scenes. We are half-way through those scenes, and considering we are about halfway through the tale, I think this is coming along well. Normally, my writing is chock-full of rewrites–which is difficult because I have a natural tendency towards seamless (or nearly so) transitions, and if I rewrite, I have to work extra-hard to make the transitions. In this case, I hardly do any rewrites. I made it a rule. It’s a good rule, at least for the first draft. I have heard of other writers refer to moving scenes around, or creating several “island” scenes, then tying them together with sequels. This strategy has never worked well for me (as a general rule), since I am so much of a cause-effect thinker. Anyway, I just got this one typed up. Although I hadn’t planned on it, there is a lot of double-meanings going on in this segment, how Belle is seeking orientation in a world so much larger than her. What is right, what is wrong, and who is she making the choices for? More than that, does any of it matter?
If you are new to the tale, do meander over to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII so this makes sense. Do not be intimidated, as each section is only a max of 2 pages long.
I paced my quarters, knocking mud off my shoes, then crushing it into a fine powder before I realized it was happening. Seeking out fellow residents was one thing, but this—I had not anticipated meeting the former royalty. If he had been like I had been, trying to pass through the cracks as much as possible, I would turn the other cheek and pretend to not have noticed. But, no, this prince had gone out of his way to let me know who he was—and make a veiled proposal.
I have a hound. Those few words spoke volumes. It spoke of marriage to a prince. It spoke of starting our lives again, but this time stronger. Perhaps better.
It also spoke of treason.
If I told Hunter, the prince would die. My countrymen would know I was the loose end. I would be a traitor.
If I went along with Momma’s plan—it had to be her plan, the royalty seldom had such talent for underhandedness—then I would be betraying Hunter. No, not Hunter. I would be betraying the new king. …and Hunter. I was more afraid of an assassin, or so I told myself.
“I’m just trying to stay alive,” I told my reflection. It did not look impressed. “I am trying to stay alive. I’ll stay, just long enough for Belle.”
Even as I spoke the words, I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. I was going to stay, not for Belle, but because it wasn’t right to leave. What was the right thing to do here? Turn on my homeland? Turn on my own people when they have the opportunity to be ruled by their own flesh and blood? Or was I to turn on what could be a brighter future, free from the ravages of war? …presuming that Hunter kept his end of the bargain. Who was I to trust?
And who was I to make this decision?
My quarters were suddenly tight and confining, a reminder that my days here were numbered unless I made the choice to embark on Momma’s plan. Right now, I did not need the pressure.
Slipping into the hall, I let my feet lead me where they may—down a few servant’s tunnels, then I scaled a lattice wall for a climbing rose until I found an open window. It was the old bell tower, an abandoned and barred ruin which had a few crumbling doorways in the first floor that had made the King declare it unfit for habitation. The old king, that is. I still needed to remind myself of that. The stairs were worn but lit by the moon and stars through windows and cracks in the mortar.
Up on the roof, my hammock was still suspended under the sun shade, though it was a little more tattered due to a winter’s stay in the elements. My breath fogged in front of my face, and my fingers and nose were chilled, but the night was warmer than in the past, and I had slept through much colder nights.
Finding my blanket under a heap of musty leaves, I shook it off and bundled myself in it like a cocoon. The hammock strained when I sat down, but no strands broke. It smelled of dust and mildew. It smelled of a tiny sliver of home, before the blue-eyed princess, before the blue-eyed hound, before I had done anything of remote significance. Under this sky of purple and silver, was any of this significant?
The night was louder than usual, and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was one of the foreigner’s traditions? Rumors were that they celebrated at night with drinking, dance, games, and flirtation. I wished they would pipe down; the sooner they did, the sooner I could sneak back to my quarters and get some sleep.
The roof rattled above me. Shedding my cocoon, I had a knife pulled from its hiding place and pointed at the sound.
“Shall I call off the search party?”
I whirled to face Hunter, who appeared on the wrong side of me.
He ignored my annoyed scowl.
“I had wondered whose love shack this was,” he said, taking in the hammock, the blanket, and the wine bottles I had stored water in.
The night hid my hot blush. “It’s no love shack! What are you doing here?”
“Practicing sneaking, investigating espionage leads, admiring the night sky…searching for a missing liaison.”
My heart stopped at “investigating espionage leads”, and took a few seconds for it to resume again. Did he know? Was he watching me? Should I confess all I knew and beg for my life? Or was he testing me? Certainly Momma’s wasn’t the only conspirator so soon after a take-over. Hunter was watching me, and waiting for a reply.
“I…had to think.”
Hunter’s eyes glittered in the moonlight as he studied me. I looked up to the stars, focusing on not thinking about anything but finding the compass constellation.
He sighed. “I had hoped that no one would return here. It is a cozy retreat.”
I sat back down on the hammock, and he leaned against the wall, then stared up at the sky.
“I think I can share,” I said.
Hunter gave me a sudden smile, his teeth catching the light for the instant before he ran his hand through tangled hair. “I’m enchanted.”
Was he being sarcastic? I didn’t think so, but he was hard to read during the full light of day.
“What’s the first constellation you look for? When you need to get oriented?”
“Aaron’s Belt,” he said without thinking.
I was a little more than confused. “You look for a belt?”
He chuckled, a thick sound full of a life. “It’s that group of four equally-spaced stars. If you come over here, the steeple points up to it.”
I did cross over to him, having to lean in close enough to smell the evergreens and treesap on him. He had not been near Momma’s. Good. I focused on the constellations. “That’s the compass.”
With a fair bit of imagination, I could see it as a belt—the eastern star looked vaguely like a buckle.
“What is?” I leaned away from him and deliberately did not think about the warmth radiating from his body.
“How two people can see the same thing, yet see it differently.”
I was quiet to this, and he did not try to start another conversation. After some time, he made a sign to a man in the courtyard, and the people down below grew quiet.
“What’s the story?” I asked, cutting through the companionable silence.
“The one behind Aaron’s belt.”
“You are the inquisitive thing, aren’t you? When I turn around next, you’ll be asking me about poisons and chemistry.”
“Would you?” I said before I could bite my tongue. Hunter looked startled. “I mean, will you teach me about poison? It’s…well, I’ve had one assassin, and the next one might be more subtle.”
The tension eased in his shoulders. “Yes.” He looked up to the stars. “But not tonight. Go home, get what sleep you can.”
The warm bed now seemed a welcome respite from the bite of a spring night. I made my way to the top of the stairs going down the tower.
“And pick up better clothes. Tomorrow, you’re meeting the King.”