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A Deleted History
Excalibur was gone.
Everyone huddled around the stone, ogling it. Then the murmuring started. The trees—as if they knew something was wrong—rustled uneasily, their leaves brushing softly against each other, making a slight whispering sound. The wind howled, a predatory wolf looking for its prey, starving, and unwilling to let it escape. Ravens cawed, startling songbirds, as they wheeled about in the air, searching for a morsel of food. Then Nature’s sounds stopped suddenly, as if someone had just thrown a switch. After Nature, came Man, the race who had tried to defy its creator, the oak who never knew when to bend. The lower ones, the servants, dispersed quickly and quietly, unnerved by the unearthly sounds, crossing themselves at what they thought was an omen. The haughty ones who scoffed at superstition and myths, started to gossip, as if they had nothing better to do. Though they had come at the crack of dawn to try their hand at pulling the sword out of the stone, they now acted as if they couldn’t care less. They covered their disappointment with laughter and scorn, but the fear was thick in the air. The fear of a tyrant, the fear of no mercy, and the fear of a king’s iron hand were just a few of them. Some whispered in the shadows. Others shouted from the pedestals. The rest just huddled, like sheep without a shepherd.
No one knew that I stood—or rather, sat—at the center of this event. In fact, hardly anyone was aware of me at all, except for Hunter, my faithful companion. Though we had spent many summers together in the same place, this was the first time we had met together in something other than our shady business. His gold hair and green eyes mesmerized people, blinding them to what lay underneath. I, unlike him, did not blind with my radiance. Instead, I cloaked with my darkness, so that no one could see what was behind my mask, no matter how hard they squinted into the shadows. We were known by many names, mostly opposites, like the sun and the moon. Despite other people’s opinions, we had things in common, especially the choice to remain in solitude. Hunter was usually an ally, someone I could seek in times of trouble, but today he was my friend, someone I could talk to about the small things, something I never got the chance to do because of my many secrets.
I, unlike him, had black hair, though people often gave me strange looks—I recently found out—my hair glows dark blue, like the wing of a raven, in the sun. My eyes were sometimes gray, sometimes blue. Someone had once told me they looked like the sea. My fingers were soft, unlined with calluses like Hunter’s, because of my tendency to wear gloves for my archery. Hunter was too lazy to find gloves for his swordplay.
“Something happened,” Hunter whispered. His mood would change like the weather, mild and sunny the first second, then stormy and cloudy the next. His green eyes glowed like emeralds illuminated with stars. They blazed with excitement—or annoyance. It was too hard to tell with him. Often, my mellow and quiet moods would be able to even out his moods, but not always. He grinned at me—so he was excited—and edged into the crowd, slipping between the churning bodies, milling about until he reached the center. I watched his slim body moving toward the stone in amusement, leaning back as the soft rays of the sun touched me. A bit of time passed, and he was back, almost leaping out of his clothes in anticipation. I had never seen him like this before, but the excitement was infectious. In a few moments, I was fidgeting on the rock, a thing I never did, and was mortified to find doing. “Who do you think drew the sword? Arthur?”
“Hmm…” I mused, enjoying the last moments with my secret before giving it away. Then, I leaned forward and lowered my voice. “I did.” At Hunter’s stunned expression, I elaborated slightly, although there was really no need to. “I drew the sword.”
“But, Sky!” Hunter exclaimed. “You’re king!” At my warning look, he too lowered his volume. “You’re king!” he repeated.
“Uh…No,” I said. “I’m thinking of putting the sword back tonight.” I grinned as I imagined what Merlin would look like. “There’s going to be such a fuss.” Everyone knew Merlin had been the one to stick the blade in the hunk of granite. It used to be a well-known secret, but now it was common knowledge.
“But, Sky!” Hunter protested.
I waved his protests off with my hand. “Come see it?” Hunter eagerly accepted this invitation and we both strolled toward my room.
“Hello, our warriors of light!” Bryce called. I waved cheerfully and Hunter growled in annoyance. Bryce was a servant working in the kitchens. He was only a year younger than Hunter and me, though he talked like a mature man. He was very precocious. He sometimes talked like an innocent child, when adults wanted his personality to match his angelic face. “What are you two lads up to?”
“Oh…Just taking a walk,” I said vaguely. “Taking a walk” could mean anything from “I’m going to go stab one of the potential kings while they’re in their chambers” to “I’m going to go pick some daisies for my sweetheart.”
“Oh, really?” Bryce asked. I could tell he didn’t believe me. “Can I come?”
“No!” Hunter intervened. “No, this is strictly…hunting stuff,” he added, softening the blow.
“That’s good,” Bryce said, unruffled. “I’m learning how to use the bow. Will you help me, Sky? Pleeasse?” No one could resist his pleading face and big puppy eyes.
“Maybe,” I replied, but with an elbow from Hunter, I revised my words. “Sure.” Bryce brightened, and Hunter gave me a dirty look. I edged away from him. I had a feeling I would come out of this conversation with more than just bruised ribs. “Later.” Bryce’s face fell. While he was formulating another answer, Hunter hustled me to my room.
I knelt on the floor, drawing out a blade from under my bed. “Ta-dah!’ I presented the sword with a flourish. I was surprised I hadn’t dropped it yet. I didn’t do swords. I worked with bow and arrows, throwing knives, stilettos, and weapons of that sort. Hunter looked like he was itching to use it in a real swordfight.
“I knew the sword was here!” A voice snarled from behind me. Something hit me on my temple, and I went down. Hard. The last thing I heard was Hunter swearing.
The last coherent thought I could remember was admiration for Hunter’s colorful expletives.
When I regained consciousness, I worked out that Hunter and I were both in the dungeon. Hunter grimaced at me. I spat, trying to rid the sour taste from my mouth.
“What happened?” I demanded, gingerly feeling my head. Pain shot through my skull as I touched the wound. When I took my fingers away, I swore, borrowing Hunter’s vocabulary for a second. Blood coated my fingers in a heavy red paste. When people told me that scalp wounds bled a lot, I didn’t believe them.
Now I do.
“Bryce’s brother,” Hunter informed grimly. “Geoffrey.” I gritted my teeth as I felt the extent of my head wound. Hunter winced at the expression on my face. I pushed myself up, gasping as hot lava flooded my veins. When Hunter’s words finally sunk in, I couldn’t help but curse.
“Geoffrey?” I added a few unprintable words along with his name. “Him? Of all people?” Geoffrey was Bryce’s older brother, and like Bryce, had golden hair and bright blue eyes inherited from his uncle, which had skipped his mother. However, nlike Bryce, his face didn’t match his actions or words: Geoffrey was evil to the core. Hunter and I avoided him like the plague: myself because of an incident involving the river, Geoffrey’s lackeys, and dunking; Hunter because of an incident involving mild poison, an important feast, and vomit on the table. Need I say more?
“Yeah.” Hunter sighed. “We came in while he was searching your room.”
“How could I be so—?”
“How come you never told me you're a girl?” Hunter accused.
I choked in the middle of my sentence.
Finally regaining words, I sputtered, “What—what are you talking about?”
“You’re a girl,” Hunter said, put out. “And you never told me!”
“I—You never asked,” I felt compelled to point out. “And how’d you find out?”
“Geoffrey told me,” Hunter said. “Right before he tried to kill me.”
“I think we would be dead by—What do you mean Geoffrey told you?” I demanded. It had never occurred to me that Geoffrey knew. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. Look, my gender isn’t important at the moment. Use your big brain and come up with a plan to get us out of here before we’re accused of treason or whatever Geoffrey’s come up with.”
“Fine. What’s your real name, anyway?” Hunter asked. I didn’t grace his question with an answer. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to concoct a brilliant plan because a guard—actually, three guards—came to “escort” us to the platform. “Escort” meaning “Kill them if they try anything fishy.” Not that I would. I valued my life. I wasn’t so sure about Hunter. I think he had a death wish or something.
Geoffrey was there, telling his story. “And they tried to kill me, but I managed to fend them off!”
“You’re a lying—” I borrowed Hunter’s vocabulary again. My voice carried easily across the crisp air. Hunter joined in with my swearing. Mothers in our vicinity covered their children’s ears, gasping as they did so.
“The boy—uh…Sly?—is telling the truth,” an old man announced. I was grateful for his help, but when he turned his glacial eyes on me, my heart sunk. This was just one more person plotting for the throne.
“It’s Sky,” I corrected irritably.
“Er, yes,” the old man said. “Sky, Hunter, why don’t you boys tell your side of the story?”
Hunter poked me and I glanced at him. I tried to speak, but found I couldn’t. I ended up choking on my spit in front of a crowd. Then, my mouth started moving, and I started to speak, but it wasn’t my story. “I saw Arthur pull out the sword.”
Hunter echoed my words, giving me panicked looks. I shrugged. I had no idea what was going on.
Merlin—that’s who he was, I realized—smiled at us, warning us with his eyes. “Good!”
Then, he whisked us off, sentenced Geoffrey, and everything ended happily ever after. Not.
But that’s a very different story.