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-Golden Love- Chapter One
The city was sleeping.
It was time for Princess Skyla to be on the move.
Once the clock tower in the marketplace struck one, Skyla flung the covers off herself. She went to her bookshelf and pulled out the pale blue servant’s dress that had been hidden behind it. There was dust on it and it was wrinkled from being rolled up in a ball. Skyla wrinkled her nose and hissed. Great. Now she would have to run around in a dusty dress. She exchanged her pink silk nightgown for the dusty garb, throwing the nightgown carelessly onto the floor. Next she went to her wardrobe and grabbed her plainest traveling cloak from its depths. It was a murky brown color and so old that most of the blue embroidery on it had been ripped or had faded. Skyla slid it on, fitting her cat ears and tail through their appropriate slits. The cloak was far too heavy for the middle of the summer. But it would help her hide her face.
Skyla was about to turn to sneak out of her room before letting out a small squeak and rushing back to her vanity. Laying amongst various powders and perfumes was a necklace. A perfect green gem, an emerald, sat right in its center. Oh, how valuable it must have been! Especially in these hard times, when the only ones that were truly well-off were nobility. No mere commoner would have something like this on their neck. But Skyla had had this piece of jewelry since she was young. Very young. She couldn’t even remember how she’d gotten it, or who had given it to her. But it would be a dead giveaway as to who she was. The princess wore it always. Everyone knew that.
The princess dropped it into the pocket on the inside of her cloak, with her money. She’d keep it out of sight. At least until she could find transportation out of the capital.
With only a few golden coins, her necklace, and the clothes on her back, the princess of Felcin slid into the night.
Getting out of the castle was surprisingly easy.
There was a giant, white wall that surrounded the giant, white castle. There was a sentry up on the wall, manning the gate that let people in and out. Skyla had been watching this gate for a few weeks now. And she had come to find out that many of the servants did not, in fact, live in the castle. But rather continued their duties into the wee hours of the morning. Then those that did not live in the castle left in one big herd, yawning and mumbling sleepily about their long days. All Skyla had to do was sneak out with that group.
And that’s what she did.
She hurried after them, as if she were late. But she was careful enough not to let the hood fall and reveal her face. The sentry waved her through after the others. Once Skyla was through, the gate shut with a noisy clang.
Now came the hard part.
Now that she was out of the castle, out in the real world…she needed to figure out how she was supposed to survive.
Skyla’s first step was to get as far away from the castle as physically possible.
For a while she followed the clump of servants. However, they soon dispersed to their various homes. Here it should be mentioned that Daltia, the capital city in which Skyla had spent the majority of her life, was sent up like a circle. The castle, you could say, was the center of it all. Or pretty near the center at least. The city expanded around it in a near perfect circle. Manors and large houses adorned the first fifteen miles around the castle. Then, as you progressed, houses grew closer and closer together. They quality slowly decreased. The city was arrange by class; a castle in the center, shacks on the outer edges.
In the middle-class area, Skyla stopped at an inn. She kept her face hidden under her hood and paid the bare minimum for a room. The room she got for a handful of bronze coins was tiny, cramped, and she was pretty sure there were bedbugs in the bed.
Skyla couldn’t sleep at all.
That morning when she went down to the inn’s lobby for breakfast, tired and sleepless from the hard mattress, everyone was talking.
“The princess just vanished from her bed!”
“I heard she was kidnapped. Probably by some filthy Witchan.”
“I’m betting she was murdered.”
Skyla heard all of this when she was halfway down the stairs. Ears pricked in alert and her tail fluffing up in anxiety, she sped back up the stairs and to her room. She quickly dawned her cloak and decided to skip breakfast at the inn.
It now became clear to our princess on the run that she had to get out of Daltia. Fast. Everywhere she went, she heard her name. It was almost like it was chasing her. Like the guards that were swarming the city and trying to find her. They seemed to be avoiding the slums, (for obvious reasons) and Skyla considered going there to hide. The people there were all poor, uneducated, and didn’t care who the princess was or knew what she looked like.
The very thought disgusted her.
Instead, she headed towards the market. Also known as Long Street. Why, you may ask? Because it was just as the name stated: a long street. It began in the heart of the wealthy district and ended just short of the slums. Like everything else in the city, quality became better the farther in you went. Skyla wanted to stay well away from the Upper Market, which was usually swarming with nobles and their personal servants. And guards. Lots of guards.
Middle Market, as she soon discovered, was also swarming with guards.
No. She wouldn’t.
She would not go to this dirty, diseased, crime-infested part of the city where now actual civilized people lived. Just a bunch of smelly immigrants that didn’t speak the right language.
No. No. No. No. A million times no!
As you might expect, Skyla ended up in the Lower Market.
The first thing she noticed was the smell. It grew gradually stronger the closer she got to the slums. It smelled simply awful. She was starting to gag.
“Was’ ya problem?” an Anthro girl around her own age demanded as she saw Skyla trying not to gag. The girl might have once been pretty. Even regal. She was even a Cat like Skyla, only the fur on her ears and tail had a calico pattern to it. But her face was covered with mud, her clothes were in tatters, and the fur that was meant to be white was more of a brownish cream color. Skyla side-stepped away from her.
The other Cat snorted. “Ya sick or something’? Them Witt-a-chins been bringin’ in the plague. Should chase ‘em out, the whole lot!”
Skyla struggled to understand the girl’s accent. Especially how she pronounced ‘Witchans.’ “What? No. The smell-”
“The smell?” the Cat laughed. “That’s just the s*** they shovel in the allies!” The laugh fell from her worn face and she moved closer to Skyla, bright blue eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Where ya from, anyhow? Most people ‘round here are used to the smell.”
The girl smelled almost as bad as the pile of…fecal matter, to use a more Skyla-friendly term.
Skyla bent over and vomited on to the girls boots.
“LITTLE CHIT!” the Cat smacked her and knocked her into the dirt. “I GOT NO WHERE TO WASH THESE! I’M GONNA HAVE TO WEAR PUKE COVERED BOOTS FOR THE NEXT YEAR!” She slammed one of said boots on to Skyla’s stomach, dirtying her pale blue dress and causing a bit more vomit to rise in Skyla’s mouth. With that the Cat stormed off.
Had that happened in the Upper Market, a guard would have arrested the girl for assault faster than she could blink. Two more guards would be helping up the victim. Skyla, in this case.
But there were no guards.
Just half-starved Anthros and immigrants that walked around and past her as if they saw a young girl splayed out on the ground every day.
Finally, Skyla recovered from shock and sat up. It took her a few minutes to realize she had to wipe the vomit off of her face with something. Since she refused to use her cloak arm or her dress hem, she crawled around until she found a rag on the ground. It was dirt and disgusting, but she used it anyway. Waves of pain were coming from her stomach. From not eating at all that day (Emptying its contents probably had not help.) and from the boot that had landed squarely on her stomach. She stumbled around a few minutes more before continuing.
She first asked directions to her destination from a group of Anthros that, as it turned out, didn’t speak Felcinian. Only Witchan and a few other languages from other countries. In fact, it took her five tries to find someone that she could actually understand. It was a tiny little Witchan girl. Who, as it turned out, spoke ONLY Felcinian.
Is everything backwards here?! Skyla thought as she asked the girl her question. If her father had been there, he would have been appalled to see his daughter talking to a Witchan. Especially one that looked like this. She was practically naked aside from a cloth tied around her waist. Her hair looked like it had never been cut. (Or combed or washed, for that matter.) And, to top it all off, her skin was turning ashen black. A sign of the Rose Plague.
Skyla hoped that the scientists were right. That the Rose Plague affected Witchans only.
“Where is the stable? Where they sell horses?” Skyla said each word very slowly and put a lot of emphasis on each one.
The girl replied quickly, “Up the street. By the pile of s*** next to the shop with the red sign.” With a cough and a wave, the little girl ran off.
Another thing that was backwards: children used swear words. A word like that would still earn Skyla a lecture. First from Nanny, next from her half-sister Bella, her tutors, and finally her father. But from the appearance of the child…the lack of clothes, the obvious lack of grooming, and the fact she was being allowed to run freely when she was so obviously sick…Skyla wondered if she had parents at all.
Skyla found the stable alright. It was a barn squeezed in between two shops. There was no paddock, no place for them to run the horses. Just a barn and four wooden posts that had hungry-looking, wounded, and ill-tempered horses tied to them. One of them was actually a pegasus. It was very thin and holding one wing at an awkward angle. Broken. Useless.
Upon entering the barn, she discovered those were the only four animals for sale.
And Skyla, being the picky and arrogant little fool she was, refused.
She’d walk to the next city before riding one of those deranged and diseased beasts.
So Skyla wandered for the next…oh…five hours. In the blistering, dry heat. In a traveling cloak made for winter.
Sweat was rolling down her face. She was practically panting.
At last she spied a well. There was a line fifteen people long for it. But she waited. When she finally got up to the front, lowered the bucket, and brought it back up (A task that took her a half hour. She was sure the Witchan behind her was calling her some very awful words. She couldn’t help it she had no upper arm strength!) The water was semi-clear. There was dirt and other unnamed substances floating around in it, fogging it.
“I can’t drink this!” she cried.
The Witchan behind her grabbed the bucket. “Then I and my children will!” She poured the water into a gourd her son was holding. They stormed off.
So Skyla was standing there. Still hot. Still thirsty.
She waited another hour in that line. When she got back up to the front, she gulped down every last drop that came up with the bucket. Dirt and all. It wasn’t even cold. It was lukewarm. But she drank it.
The princess had hit a new low.
By noon, Skyla was dying. She practically collapsed into a small canopy of shade. She was next to a bunch of other young women. Some Witchan, some Anthro, some were races she couldn’t identify without coming across some difficulty. They were all wearing short dresses and it looked like they had taken some effort in grooming. As Skyla observed them, they seemed to be a combination of beggars and prostitutes. It horrified Skyla to some degree. After all…she was sitting next to prostitutes. But part of her was too tired to care.
I…I want to go home. Skyla admitted silently. She wasn’t cut out for this. What was she doing out here? A princess sitting in between prostitutes and a pile of feces? This wasn’t her world. She didn’t belong here. At all.
“Alright, ladies. Time to pay up.”
With sighs of exasperation, the prostitutes took out all the money they’d earned. Not much. Some pulled out scraps of food. They handed these earnings to an Anthro. A Wolf with a sinister smile. He looked dirty, but well-fed for someone in the slums. The women moved towards each other and away from him, murmuring and scattering away from him like frightened birds.
Skyla stayed put. She watched all of the women hand over their money and food to the man.
He looked at her. “What about you, you little s***?”
The princess didn’t take lightly to being called a s***. She sat up straight, growling a bit. “What did you just call me?”
“Just give me your money, kitty.” he growled. “This is my turf. I don’t care if you want to w**** yourself out to people; just so long as I get half of what you earn.” He stuck out his hand.
“No! I’m not a…” Skyla hesitated, trying to find the right term. She didn’t want to get the prostitutes mad and have them turn against her, too. But that didn’t seem to be a problem. The women were trying to stay out of it. None of them would look at her. At all. In that brief moment of hesitation, the wolf snarled and grabbed her arm. His grip was like a vice. He ripped off the cloak, which was a relief and frightening all at once. He threw it on the ground. Gold, bronze, silver, and tin coins scattered on the ground. Along with the necklace. The Wolf instantly let go and dove on top of the valuables, grinning like a mad man.
“Those are MINE!” Skyla cried, trying to at least retrieve her necklace. The man slapped her and she fell to the ground.
“I think those belong to the lady, sir.”
The wind suddenly picked up. Skyla’s white hair began to flutter around her. Something about it seemed…unnatural. There hadn’t been any wind at all that day. Not even a breeze. And now there came a gale that was kicking up dust and causing people to yelp and run for cover. She held her arm over her eyes, trying to keep anything from getting in her eyes.
She saw the women running now, away from something behind her. The man was looking past her, growling. Skyla turned.
There was a man standing there. A young Witchan man. He was leaning against a smooth wooden staff and his copper-colored hair was falling into his green eyes. I could tell he was slum-raised by his clothing. There wasn’t much coloring to his clothes. Just a brown shirt, torn brown pants, brown gloves, black boots, and a black cloak. Multiple piercings could be seen in his large, pointed ears. A common tradition among young Witchan men, from what Skyla had observed. Dirt layered his face and what little skin he exposed. (How could Witchans stay so covered and not overheat?!) The wind now seemed to be circling around him. Fluttering through his cloak, tousling his hair…it was like it was playing with him.
“Get out of here, you filthy Witchan pig.” the Wolf growled. “This doesn’t concern you.”
“No, it doesn’t.” the Witchan admitted. “But it concerns a lady. And it is my duty as a gentleman to defend her.”
The man snorted and began to walk away.
Still holding on to the staff with one hand, he stretched out one trembling hand. He murmured something too quiet for Skyla to hear. A blast of crackling lightning shot from his palm. It hit the Wolf. He dropped her belongings on to the ground. Skyla was upon them before any of the other people could lurch forward and grab them. She pulled on her cloak quickly, hiding her face under the hood once more.
The Wolf looked dead.
His arms were splayed out around him, and his eyes were closed.
She looked fearfully at the Witchan, backing away.
“He’s not dead.” the Witchan said. “He’s…un…con…” Suddenly the staff he was leaning on vanished. It was there and then it was gone. Just like that. He staggered and fell to the ground, landing on his side. Skyla stood between the two unconscious men, stunned and confused. She hardly even noticed when the prostitutes began to beat the unconscious Wolf, then proceeded to steal back their belongings and whatever else he had on him. They ran off with huge smiles on their faces.
Skyla slowly came out of her shock. She was about to run off, when she felt something tug at her heart. That Witchan had saved her from losing all of her money and her precious necklace. The least she could do was check to see if he was dead. Though she had no idea what she planned on doing if that was the case. She moved towards him slowly and cautiously, like she expected him to jump up and scare her. But no. The Witchan stayed motionless.
She poked his shoulder briefly, then jumped back.
“Um…” she shook his shoulder now. “Hey…um…mister…wake up!”
How was she supposed to know he was alive? Um…check his…check his breathing! She put her fingers just in front of his nostrils, and felt a slight bit of air. Yup, he was breathing. So…now what? Should she just leave him there? No one seemed very concerned. They just walked around him and the Wolf, some rolling their eyes as they walked past. As if their being passed out in the middle of the road was an incredible and selfish inconvenience.
She looked around for someone he might know. A mother. A father. A brother or a sister. Maybe even a wife. Witchans were known to marry early and then have too many children than they could afford. But no one stepped forward.
I can’t just leave him here…she decided.
So she did the only thing she could do. She hauled the unconscious Witchan on to her back and headed back to the Middle Market to find another inn.