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A Tale of Flynnigan Rider Chapter 12 A Tale of Flynnigan Rider Chapter 12By: Whytegriffin—“Are you sure you can do it?”“Yup.”“It could be a little scary, you know.”“Nope, I’m not scared.”“You’re sure?”“Yup.” “Wait until The Master is calling everyone to bed, okay?” “Okay. Then I unlock the door, I sneak outside, and climb on the roof?”“Are you afraid to climb on the roof?”“Nope, I’m not.”“Shouldn’t we have her just come back into the room?”“How loud is the Master when he inspects your rooms after hours?”“Too silent. You’re right,” Darren nodded. “I’ll just wait until he goes into his room, Candi. I’ll see the light.”“How do you know?”“I’ve done it before,” the younger girl shrugged. “Heh. I guess that’s settled,” Darren smirked. Mary looked proud of herself and Candi looked somewhat concerned for a moment before she chose to voice her thoughts. “I don’t think that Master will let us into both rooms tonight to sleep, especially not if he’s hiding Kay.””Should I unlock Kay’s door?” Mary volunteered. Darren and Candi locked gazes for a moment in silent conversation, until at last Darren shook his head. “No, you’d better not. One door unlocked will be dangerous enough. He may think that he forgot to lock one, but I doubt that he’ll think himself capable of forgetting to lock two doors, which he may be, I imagine, but he would never admit it.” “But then how will we rescue Kay?” “We may not able to, Mary. You know that she would have us rescue Eugene right away, so first we’re going to give him a way out. We’ll figure everything else out later. When the king and queen get here.””But what if-””No, no more what-ifs. This is going to happen, alright? We’re not…we can’t live this way any longer.” “Darren, we have to go now, before he suspects something,” Candi murmured. “It’s almost dark out, he’ll be sending us to bed soon.””After this last bucket of water,” Darren conceded. “Do we all know what we’re supposed to do?””Yes!” Candi and Mary whisper-chorused together. ——The day was nearly done. The rooms were cleaned, the fear of Antoine was again upon the two scullery maids whom he had actually found conversing with one another when he had arrived in the kitchen a short time before, the clothes were mended as well as Candi could mend them, and the children were being herded into the boys’ rooms right now to sleep. If the king or queen had any issue with him throwing them together for one or two nights out of the year, he would never know, because they would never know. The children would be awake, dressed, fed more for breakfast than they received in a typical daytime of meals, and standing outside cheerily waving to the approaching carriage. Such was the picture in his mind, and such would he heavily impress upon all of them as he scrambled into bed when he entered the room. His thin lips curved into a cruel smile. How they feared him, and what glee that fear inspired within him. Naturally he would rather be doing a hundred other things, so he would take what pleasure this miserable life could offer him. Not from the children - though Kay would certainly have become a fine woman he she the strength to come to adulthood. His lips curled in disgust, but not quite from the righteous disgust that curdles most peoples’ stomaches at the thought of an adult using children for their own satisfaction. His disgust, though in all fairness to the man did include the aforementioned, was chiefly bound in his complete and utter loathing of children as a whole. He simply could not comprehend why anyone would choose, of their own free will, to associate with children unless they happened to be one’s own - and even that for him would push the boundaries of his ire for them. He’d no real reason to hate any human less than an adult and more than sixty years of age, but he could barely palate them. The conversation that could be heard through the hallway was hushed and hissed, as if they all knew that their bedtimes were drawing near. Antoine grumbled and spat for a solid five minutes, ignoring the opportunity to find out what the small mouths were discussing to urgently, before he drew himself to his full height, cleared his throat, composed his face, and strode down the hall. He may take them unawares and mid-plot, or he might not. Tonight, after the day that he’d had, he couldn’t bring himself to care either way. ———Eugene bit back both a groan and a sigh. He knew that he could not risk the master hearing him, and more that he could not risk being caught, not now. But he had tried to move far too quickly. He let himself rest for several minutes, struggling to stay awake. It had surely been hours since he had seen Kay, and it was deep into the evening now, and not even the master had come back for hours. He could hear the hush of pre-bedtime conversation. Shivers ran down his spine when he thought of what may have happened to Kay. The master could easily dump her into the well, or better yet the river. He likely would not have risked putting her in the fire, whereever that was. It must have been a very large fire, for the smell of it had yet to go away. Finally he moved again, slower than slowly, and prayed with each inch that he gained that Antoine would not burst in upon him. “Just a little farther,” he told himself, “only a little farther.” He had managed to come almost to the window by this time. Kay had left the window open just a crack, and Eugene had decided that he would and could get through it. He would climb back in through the girls’ window and listen for Antoine, and he was certain that, at this rate, it would take him all night and that he really had to get out of here quickly. Eugene ground his teeth together and hoisted himself up, first to his elbows, then, praying for the strength not to scream, he got to his knees and leaned against the wall for several minutes, shaking and sweating. Now came the very hard part, the part where he lifted his arms and hoisted himself out of the window. He couldn’t make himself do it. Instead, he pushed against the wall with his arms and forced himself into a standing position, where he could rest his arms against the window sill, where he could lever himself out without having to lift his arms. The boy had forgotten just how far a drop it was from the window to the grass beneath, and when he hit the rapidly cooling earth, his vision swam in blotches of white and black for several minutes. At length his vision cleared, and he had the presence of mind not to groan or to whimper. Instead, he crawled into the tallest tussock of grass that he could reach and rested there, catching his breath. Antoine, should he notice that Eugene was missing, would likely go to the window as the easiest course. The path after that, however, was through the woods, and Eugene was going anywhere but the woods - but the Master didn’t know that, and right now Eugene was very much counting on the Master not having any such ideas. The Master’s typical habit would assume that Eugene had struck off on his own into the woods, either to run away, perhaps just to hide - or perhaps, Eugene realized, Antoine would suspect him of trying to find the king. Whatever he thought, it seemed least likely to the boy that the Master would imagine him wanting to stay in this place. He scoffed to himself without making a sound. He wanted nothing more to do with this place, not with someone like Antoine terrorizing children day and night in it.————”And I thought that I was gonna drowned because it was cold and wet and scary. And Ryden saved me like a princess and I’m still wet.” Abby frowned when she said that, looking at her skirt and shaking it out just a little. She glanced over at Ryden and licked the frosting off of her fingers. “ I wanna see Kay. Do you think she’s going to be happy to see us? Do you think she’ll think I’m a princess?” The little girl grinned extatically as she glanced around the coach. The food and the warmth of it had cheered her considerably, and it seemed that she had forgotten everything else that had ahppened that day - or perhaps she was too caught up in her game of pretending that none of it had happened. She had, as she had said already, almost died, and that was not an exageration. “Abby, don’t you remember-” Ryden cut himself off. She was little, just over five. What right did he have to crush her with all of her everyday drudgery right now? Abby was warm, had eaten a real dinner, and was riding in the royal carriage. He had no right.“What, Ryden?”“Oh nothing,” he replied non-chalantly. “This is kind of like a story, isn’t it?”“Mmmhmm!” She nodded eagerly. “And this is one of the best stories, just like how Eugene tells them!” Her face clouded over now, exactly like Ryden had been trying to avoid. “Ryden, where is Eugene? We didn’t see him all the day, and I heard Kay whispering to the older girls, but she didn’t whisper to us. Did he disappear? Like Eustace?” The queen, who had earlier forsaken her ride for the warmth of the carriage, eyed her curiously and glanced at Ryden. “No, Abby. Not like Eustace,” he assured her, passing her a bit of his pastry and hoping that it wouldn’t make her throw up. The boy very awkwardly cleared his throat and glanced up at the queen as if he were trying to avoid her gaze. “An older boy - the oldest of us, really. He was … nicer to the younger children than the Master is, so they liked him. One day he talked back to Master Antoinne, and the Master struck him down and beat him in front of everyone. The next day, Eustace was gone, and we all believed that the master had killed him until we saw him almost a year later.””None of this was never reported.””No, ma’m. Master Antoinne doesn’t allow us the speak when there is a visitor.” Her majesty paled when she heard this and her mouth hung open just a little. “But the reports that - that means every report that I have read in the last several years have been nothing more than a fabrication. A lie telling me that the children here were happy and well cared for, despite the misgivings that we had…” She looked at Ryden as she spoke, but most of the words were spoke inwardly, in shock, to herself. “And this Master Antoinne. Does he beat the children often?””No, ma’m. At least, not as badly as he did Eustace last night. He’s beaten me, and Darren, and especially Eugene.” Ryden shuddered against his will as he recalled the strip of skin dangling from the pitchfork. He pushed the image out of his mind, unwilling to lose the best meal of this year to nausia. “Sometimes he does it when someone has stood up to him, but other times…there doesn’t seem to be any reason.” “And this time?”“This time he knew that someone other than his great friend was coming. And as we already said, he switched places with a younger boy.”“You did say that. Forgive me, I’m just trying to piece all of this together. I can not help but be shocked by what Antoinne has done, though I am…not surprised.”“You aren’t?”“His coming to this position was under strange circumstance, and my husband and I were too blinded by our own grief to realize what may be happening.”“The princess,” Ryden whispered. He had no need to ask whether she had been found. The lanterns still lit the night sky on the first night of June every year. The queen nodded, not quite sadly. It looked to Ryden more as if she had resigned herself to the loss of her daughter. Despite the loss that he himself had felt - or perhaps more because of it - Ryden felt the familiar lurch of sorrow in his gut that reached up into his throat and forced him to swallow harshly. He cleared his throat and latched onto the subject, a question that had plagued him, perhaps for years, rushing to his lips. “Why now? What made you decide to come and see us?”“The orphanage in the royal city,” she replied quietly. Ryden wondered why the tone had changed until he heard a soft snort and glanced to his side to see that Abby had lain down on the bench and had fallen asleep. “You see, the children were being mistreated there. Not beaten, thank God, but not being well treated. We discovered just how much of the children’s money was being pocketed by the house matron and realized how lax things had become. Half of the children ill… This is nearly that last orphanage on the cicruit, and it may surprise you, but I believe that there may have already been one that is worse than your own home sounds.”“But…your majesty, were there at least one or two that weren’t bad?”“Four. There were four being run as we had hoped, and two that are doing the best that they can.”“Best that they can?” Ryden almost spat in disbelief as he eyed the pastry in one hand and clutched the velvet seat beneath him with the other. “Yes,” the queen answered, not noticing the tension that was mounting in the boy, “they are both near fishing villages, you see, and last this last year there have been terrible seas and… many losses. Donations and stipends alone can only go so far when there are too many children in a given place. And as you know all too well, they mean nothing at all when the children for whom they are given see nothing of the benefits that are meant for them.” “And the - the worst one so far. What was it like?” “All of the children sickly and ill. None of them in anything more than rags, rats living in their bedrooms - they would have done better living on the streets while their matron and master rolled fatly in the benefits.” Her majesty ground out the words as if she had forgotten that she was speaking to a child from an orphanage.“Ours is not quite so terrible as that,” he said quietly and shuddered. He had thought that they had had things rough, but it appeared that there was worse. “How long until we arrive by carriage? I do not know how far upstream we were washed by the river.”“We thought to leave early in the morning and thus arrive by noon.”“It will be quite late when we arrive,” Ryden mumbled. Maybe too late. “Try to sleep until then, Ryden. The road and the river have wearied you as much as they have wearied your friend.” Ryden sighed as a response, certain that his thoughts would prevent exactly that, but when he closed his eyes to appease the queen, he found them too heavy to open, and sleep found him before the carriage could round the next bend.—————“There will be neither talking nor even whispering from you tonight, is that understood?” Antoine demanded of the children who stood straight as rods at their respective beds. The room was crowded tonight, almost clogged with the amount of children whom the man had decided to sequester in one spot. The collective nod from each and every child was nearly audible, and followed by a vocal affirmative. Antoine gave a sharp nod. “To bed with you. It is a bright and early day tomorrow, as you well know. All of you will be on your best behavior or there will be hell to pay afterwards.”“Yes, sir,” the chorus resounded from the overcrowded beds. The master snorted and closed the door, locking it behind them. Darren and Candi shot each other conspiratorial glances as they tucked the youngest children into bed. Candi nodded to him. He was the one closer to the window. made to lie down in bed, but first made to look outside, unlocking the window and opening it just the smallest bit for Mary to sneak open later in the night. He was thankful that Antoine had been too preoccupied to count them. The only concern left in him was whether Mary had made it out in time. Candi, on the other end of the room, nodded to him once more and they settled into their beds, neither daring to close their eyes until the frame of their window started rising the tiniest bit. Darren rose slowly, cautiously, but was startled nearly out of his skin by a sudden shout from down the hall.“Back onto the roof,” he hissed, sliding back under the covers and making to struggle his way out of bed seconds later when the sound of pounding feet thundered down the hall. He expected Antoine to burst into the room and demand to know what had happened to Eugene, but the door remained locked - for the moment. He strained in the dark to make his ears hear, but he knew that it was near useless. The only reason he’d been able to communicate so well with Candi and Mary earlier in the evening was mostly because he’d been able to decipher their words by the movement of their lips, and that only passively. Antoine must have given a truly tremendous shout if he had heard it. Once more the sound of pounding footsteps invaded the hall and the knob on their door was furiously twisted. Darren stood once more, only to be surprised a second time when the door didn’t open, and the pounding footsteps receded, this time in the direction of the kitchen, were he to guess. Darren could only wonder whether this fuss was merely on account of the unlocked door or whether Eugene had managed to escape in such a short window of time. If he had escaped, then where had he got to? He didn’t have long to ponder the question. The footsteps returned, and this time the door was thrown open. Antoine charged to the far end of the room, immediately grabbing Darren by the throat and pushing his face into the boy’s face. “Where the hell is Fitzherbert?” He growled. Darren swallowed hard against the hand that held his throat tight, but he shook his head. He couldn’t possibly know where Eugene was - or even what for certain Antoine had said. He hadn’t heard much more than a foggy garble between his damaged ears and his sudden lack of breath, but he didn’t know what else such a vehement question would pertain to. Antoine snarled and threw Darren against the wall. He didn’t hear Candi’s gasp, but he heard the magnificent crack the reverberated through his skull. His head hurt to much for him to want to move. Antoine spat in his face and turned his attention to the rest of the children. Darren reached up, tried to think of some way to stand up, but everything started swimming before his eyes, and he chose instead to do his best to remain conscious. There must be some witness to the king and queen somehow.——————Each sharp gasp hurt his back, each gasp brought on by his own movement, and Eugene wished for the thousandth time that he had no need to breath - or move, because moving was even worse. He’d seen the light go on in Antoine’s room though he’d made his way several feet in the opposite direction by the time he’d turned his lights on. He heard the frantic searching, the breaking and tearing that many of the man’s possessions had been subjected to in his quest for a badly beaten boy whom he’d hid in a trunk. He heard the cursing and the swearing and he kept going. Kay had never returned. He could not think that Antoine would be foolish enough to get her blood on his hands, not now when she - she was so close. Tears stung his eyes, and not from the pain in his body. The pain by now was so unrelenting that he’d forced his body to stop reacting to it. (840 wds. Thurs. Feb 6) The pain in his soul stung much deeper, the knowledge that, though he might find Kay where he was going, that she may no longer be there. Why had she told him at all? Or, why hadn’t she told him sooner? Eugene bit back another gasp as he jarred his shoulder again. This time, though, it had been against something solid, and he looked up to see that he had finally made it back to the window through which he had entered the night before. The thought of hoisting himself up and through that window again in possibly a worst state than the night before made his head spin, but he grit his teeth together and stared at the wall, trying to decide on his best course of action. It took his nearly ten minutes to decide that there really wasn’t a best course of action here, and that he would just have to find the strength to do what he needed to do. He reached for the wall and slowly began to push himself up. A sudden shout from the other end of the house startled him, and he very nearly lost his grip, but he held on tenaciously, glancing in the direction that the noise had come from. It had sounded from inside of the house, he thought, and he appeared to be right since no one was rounding the corner yet. He glanced up in time to see that a light had been brought into the room to which he was heading. Curious. But then maybe not so. Antoine must have realized that he was missing. That would certainly explain the shout that had been heard. A cold fear shot through him when he reasoned that Kay must be in that room, and Antoine suspected that she would be harboring him. No. More likely he knew that Kay would be the first person that Eugene would seek out. Kay was in that room, just beyond the window if the sudden lamplight was anything to go by. He watched the window unwaveringly, biting his lips together when the sting of his craned neck became nearly unbearable, until the light finally went away, and he heard as the door latched. With a sigh he let his head rest on the ground, willing the pain in his back to lessen or at least for the tense muscles in his neck to ease before he tried the window and prayed that it had not been locked. Eugene had no idea just how long he lay there, but the moon had come up and the grass all around him was wet when he raised his head again and shook the unexpected sleep from his body before his body could scream at him not to do it. He nearly screamed in return, and held it back only because of how still the night was around him. Another moment and the night was not so still, but it was filled only with the sounds of night, of crickets and any number of insects along with the swooping owls and skittering rodents. He breathed out - probably for the dozenth time at least - and pushed himself up, succeeding in his attempt, to gain enough momentum to grasp the walls of the house and claw the rest of his way up to the window. Not only was it unlocked, but it was cracked open. Eugene, letting another bout of agony pass, considered whether Antoine could be waiting for him in there and not Kay, or it could just as easily be both of them. The wind cut into him through his dampened clothes while he considered, and decided that he couldn’t care less whether Antoine was there or not. He clumsily half fell and half slid into the room, relieved when Antoine did not immediately clout him from behind. The Master did not appear to be in the room. Eugene let go of the window sill and fell to the floor, any screams bitten back behind firm lips. It had to have been several minutes before he was once again able to push himself up on his elbows and look about the room. The moonlight coming in through the windows revealed the fact that the room was unoccupied, the beds empty, He bit back a groan and let his head rest on the floor. Had all of this been for nothing? Eugene was nearly spent, he didn’t know what else he could do. Certainly he didn’t have the strength to search the house and look in the cellar to be sure that Antoine hadn’t been evil enough to condemn her to the cold damp of the cellar dirt. It took him a moment to realize that there were more noises in the house than there should be, labored breathing, hushed voices, but no words from Antoine. There was, however, light coming through the crack beneath the door. Light that was obscured half way across by something lying on the floor of what he had thought was an empty room. Something moving. “Kay?” Eugene trembled, reaching for the lump on the floor. He couldn’t touch it, so he pulled himself forward as quickly as his arms would drag him, suddenly numb to the pain on his back. “Kay,” he whispered again, the breath of his word blowing the tears from his lips. “Flynnigan Ryder?” Came a faint whisper. Eugene held back a sob and crawled faster until he could see her half-lidded eyes staring into the dark. Her disheveled hair lay all about her, her clothes still spread with dark patches that Eugene was certain was his own blood. Her hand stretched out toward him and he touched her fingertips and felt them to be icy cold. “That’s me,” he whispered, trying his best to sound dashing, like he did when he read the stories to the other children. He was certain that he sounded nothing of the sort, but he saw Kay smile nevertheless. “I knew that you’d come,” she breathed. Eugene nodded even though he wasn’t certain that she could see him do so, because he couldn’t speak right at that moment. “I’m so cold, Eugene,” she murmured, and she closed her eyes. Eugene bit back the sob that came to his throat and grasped her hand, but her eyes fluttered open and a smile returned. “The last chapter, sir. Remind me of how it ends?” Eugene sniffled, then stiffened for a moment when he heard a familiar sound that he couldn’t quite place and he wasn’t certain why. The faint noises died away again, and he grabbed hold of the bedpost to pull himself up until he was sitting, and then, somehow, he managed to pull Kay up as well and nestled the older child against his shoulder. She sighed when the heat of his fevered body began to soak into her cold skin. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes tightly for a moment, recalling the first lines of the last chapter, the lines that often eluded him despite their irony. His voice croaked when he opened his mouth to speak.“This,” he began, “is the story of how I died.”———————Mary clutched the roof and held her breath as the Master burst into the room. He had moved more quickly than she had anticipated, she had barely gotten out in time the first time, and this time she’d almost been caught. She closed her eyes and trembled when he started yelling - at Darren, it sounded like - bit her finger when she heard the sound of something slamming against the hard wooden beam that supported the wall. She didn’t hear the words, just the shouting. Candi shouted something, but whether it was directed at Darren or at the Master she couldn’t tell. More shouting, both voices, and finally the door slammed and the light dimmed. Mary didn’t move, not when she heard Candi’s choked voice beneath her, not when Darren’s broken, garbled voice replied. The Master might return and she would be punished. Normally she would have no need to fear punishment until after the inspection, to save face, but this time it seemed as if he would just as soon throw her into the well now and pretend to know no different, just as he no doubt intended to do when the subject of Ryden and Abby came up. She let herself relax now, and against her will, the sounds of the night and what sounded like the drone of a story being told, lulled her to sleep. When she awoke, it was to the sound of a slap. Candi gasped, but Mary could not know whether it was because she or Darren had been struck. She huddled tense against the roof, wondering whether she should have gone down before Antoine had come back, wondering whether her absence had been noted or if Antoine’s anger was directed at Eugene’s disappearance. She still didn’t know how he could have gotten out in so short a time, not the way Darren and Candi had been talking. And not the way he had cried out the night before when the Master had caught him returning before he’d said so. Candi cried out again, this time in anger, and there was another slap. Mary cringed in sympathy, feeling horrible that she thought herself lucky to be up high where Antoine could not reach her. Another sound, though, started to filter through the night air. Not at all a familiar sound, it took her several minutes to recognize it. Horses, and maybe a carriage. She wondered how many, and what they were doing in this part of the woods. She knew far too well that it could not possibly be the king and his men. Perhaps a hunting party had gotten lost once again? Mary shrugged and made her way to the front of the house, the only place where one could get a descent view of the forest road. She didn’t bother trying to see their insignia, she would never see them again as it was, but still, it was a sight to see because of its rarity. ————————“How much longer until we arrive?” the queen asked, reaching out of the rolling carriage to get the attention of the captain of the guard. “We’re almost upon it, your majesty,” he bowed. The queen nodded, looking over her sleeping carriage mates. She wondered whether it would be best to bring them in with them, to shock this Master Antoine, or whether it would be best to leave them here almost as an ace in the hole. Not that there was a chance any longer of his remaining in charge here. The queen had heard quite enough, and the stories, to her mind, were not quite fantastic enough to be lies. Perhaps there was an exaggeration here and there, but her certainly believed that the children were not being treated as well as they had been left to believe. The plume of smoke from a smoldering building greeted them first, contrasted harshly against the deep blue sky by the pale moon above. Hadn’t the boy mentioned something about a fire? They had certainly smelled it from afar, but had put no store in it, thinking it to be a large campfire. The outbuilding stood - or had once stood - several hundred yards from the home itself. She could, at least, forgive the master for leaving it to burn itself out when it clearly posed little danger to his charges. The carriage came to a halt before the door of a large sprawling house with one level And the queen alighted quickly, the king coming to her side and taking her hand as she did so. “Remain here with the children, captain,” she ordered. The man gave a tight nod and positioned himself at one of the carriage doors while his sovereigns approached the orphanage. —————————Candi ran and crouched beside Darren the moment that Antoine had left the room. His eyes wandered and seemed dazed. She grabbed his face between her hands and demanded that he look her in the eye. He couldn’t hear her. She demanded again and pressed her hands firmly into his cheeks. He startled and focused on her face. A dozen children swarmed immediately behind her and she didn’t hear them or feel them pressing in around her. “Darren, you have to stay awake,” she told him even though she had no idea why she was telling him this. Sleep healed things, so why didn’t she want him to sleep? She didn’t know, she just somehow knew that he couldn’t. That he shouldn’t. He shouldn’t even close his eyes right now. His head lolled to the side, but she held him upright and stared at him. He stared back with less intensity, surely, but with determination. “I’m not going anywhere,” he whispered, his jaw hardening, his lips making a straight line. Candi nodded approvingly. “Got to stay awake,” Darren muttered. He cast his glance around the room and nodded to the knot of children that had formed around them. “You guys had better get back to bed before the Master returns, okay? Don’t worry, tomorrow’s going to be better. Tomorrow everything will change, it has to change.” The children had the good sense - or possibly just too much fear instilled in them from their years in this place - not to shout or even say a thing above a whisper, but many of them agreed vocally before turning back to their beds. Darren released a sigh, and Candi turned sharply to the sound, afraid that he may be falling asleep once again, but his gaze was following the last of the children as they wrapped the covers around themselves. “Let’s get you to your feet, Darren,” Candi whispered robustly in the faint hope that he could hear her, if only a little. He nodded and clutched the window sill, using that and letting Candi help him up. He sighed and staggered, but finally appeared steady enough. He cast his glance about the room and finally stepped away from Candi, faltering slightly, and took up the lantern that the Master had left in the room. Then he bent down, removing a board in the floor and pulling out a familiar book bound in well-worn leather. He hung the lantern on a bedpost and stood beside it, opening the book to the first story. “My first escape from the jaws of death was nowhere near as exciting as it sounds,” he read. ——————————The Master slammed the door behind him, cursing, spitting, swearing. The scullery maids were useless. No one had seen Eugene. No one would have had the chance, he was certain of it. He’d been sure to keep them busy and away from that side of the house. Antoine could hardly believe that the little whelp had actually gathered the strength to escape on his own, but what else was there? He had somehow forgotten to lock his door, but Eugene would not be quick in his condition. He would have seen the boy trying to make it out into the halls. He half believed that one of the children had unlocked the door in an ill attempt to aid their friend, but none of them had been missing. And how would it have aided them in the end, he wanted to know. Perhaps their plot had been to lure him outside and thus give Eugene time to escape. He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. He had to find the boy, he couldn’t possibly hope that he had been set upon by wolves, he rarely saw them at this time of year. The thought occurred to him that he could, once he found him, throw the boy into the river, but then when his body washed ashore the bruises and markings could give him away if the boy were ever identified. Not that it was likely, but Antoine was unwilling to risk that. Casting a glance down the hall, just to be certain that Eugene wasn’t slithering through it, he went out the front door and rounded the house to his own window. The children had been running back and forth through the grass here all day, so the grass was more tracked down than normal, and it could not tell him whether a boy had recently fallen onto it. He searched the rest of the grounds likewise, stepping over the occasional fallen branch or patch of stones. He walked to the edge of the woods behind the house, but Eugene certainly could not have made it this far, and if he had, good riddance of him. He would search for the boy’s corpse after the king had gone. Antoine spit a few more curses and began a slow trek around the place, kicking tussocks of grass and rotten logs that crumbled wetly against his boot, just in case the boy was hiding in them or hiding as one. He came up with nothing to shoe for all of his searching, and finally went back into the house, his lantern burning low. He made his way down the hall, intent upon getting some sleep before the king arrived the following day, when he heard the low droning of a story being read in the room where the children were supposed to be asleep. There was only one boy the he knew of who read the children stories. Antoine unlocked and opened the door with a single, violent motion and launched himself upon the boy standing against the bed, striking his face with a resounding slap. Darren reeled back and Candi was at his side with a worried gasp a moment later. “No! Leave him alone!” Candi cried, putting herself between Darren and Antoine. At first, Antoine was too stunned to do anything. Here he thought that he had finally caught Eugene, but he had not been using his senses, because Eugene could hardly stand as he was now. “You’ve hurt him enough!” “Step away from him, lass,” Antoine growled, but in reply, Candi rooted herself more firmly in place. “No.” “Girl, I am warning you,”“Is that what you did for Eugene? Give him a warning before you tried to beat the life out of him? Where is Eugene, Antoine? And Kay? What have you done with them? Are they even still alive?” “None of our business, little girl,” he sneered. “Give me that book.” The girl hesitated for a moment, as if wavering between two decisions. Finally she decided upon one, and gently pulled the book from Darren’s hands. She held it out to Antoine, but quickly withdrew it when he was about to close his hand on it. What was this book anyway, and where had they gotten it from? “What are you going to do with it if I give it to you?”“Burn it, possibly, not that I have to answer to you.” The girl hesitated a moment longer and finally gave the book into his possession. Antoine’s lips curled when he read the title. “What is this? Adventure stories? Is this the clout that Eugene has been filling your heads with? You’ll never have any adventures. You’re just a lot of worthless orphans, whom nobody cares for, and whom nobody loves. Do you hear?”“I heard,” a deep voice answered him from behind. Antoine froze, and no one else dared move. “What are you doing to that boy?” Another voice broke the silence. This voice was softer, a woman’s voice. “The queen!” Several of the little orphans gasp. Antoine’s lips twist into the nearest thing to a smile, but it is clear that if he could harm everyone in this room, he would. Slowly, he turns the the king, trying his best to compose himself. “Your majesty, all of this is easy to explain. This boy has no business in the room this time of night with this girl, and I was merely-”“He’s lying,” Candi shouted, actually daring to cut him off. Antoine stared at the girl aghast. How dare she? She’d never done anything of the sort. And while his mind began to work out the manner of punishment that he would inflict upon her for daring to speak over him, he began to fear that it would no longer be an option, that he may no longer be left his position. “He’s beating Darren because he dared to stand up to him this afternoon, just like he beat Eugene for daring to oppose his will yesterday.” “Sire, this one is a compulsive liar,” he grunted, not taking into account that the boy behind him sat crumpled against the wall, again bleeding from a wound to his head. “Are they all then? I have heard other stories this night,” the king said evenly, looking the Master up and down and realizing exactly what manner of man stood before him. Antoine knew it too. His would have to be careful steps.“They must occupy themselves somehow, your majesty, even if it is in creating malicious stories.”“Of course.”“Er, what do you mean other stories,” the master blurted before he could bite his tongue. “Had that little bastard Eugene slipped past him?“We crossed the path of two children wandering in the woods. They said they’d fallen in the river. Weren’t you looking for them?” An excited chorus of whispers rose from the beds, mingled constantly with the words ‘Ryden’ and ‘Abby’. ”It-it was a tragic accident. The river is moving too quickly for anything to be done when someone falls in. I am no strong swimmer, you see. It is fortunate that one of the children whom you found clearly was, but surely they are not the same children as the ones whom we lost.”“They were quite apt in their descriptions of this place, down to the burnt out barn; and their names are the same.” “You did this,” he hissed, rounding with lightening speed upon the boy who couldn’t hear him. “You and Eugene have conspired against me.” Darren merely stared back, his eyes still not focussed, only half seeing everything. Antoine raised his hand against the boy for the last time, but found it caught from behind in a grip that encompassed a third of his forearm. “Guards, arrest this man,” the calm voice of the king said behind him. Antoine did not melt in defeat. He clawed at Darren with his other hand. His anger swelled when the boy only stared blankly at him. Antoine began to curse and to swear every name of every child in the room, relishing the few that cried out or began to whimper when he said their name. If they found Eugene it would be too late for him, he could take comfort in that. Kay was likely gone already. He hoped that was the case even as the iron bands were locked around his wrists and he was dragged into the hall, his keys snatched from his belt, his person removed from his prison. He cursed and spat until the guards had had enough of it and shoved an oily rag into his mouth. ———————————“Shush, its alright now,” the queen chided softly as several of the children gathered in around her. “He won’t hurt you anymore.” She touched Darrens face and started to clear the blood away. He glanced about the room, appearring to be only dimly aware of what had happened. Candi knelt beside him, handing clean kerchiefs to the queen. Suddenly she gasped. “Your majesties,” she said, “where are Ryden and Abby? Are they alright?”“They are both well,” the king smiled down at her. “They are sleeping in the carriage at the moment, that is unless Antoine awoke them with his howling.” Candi nodded gratefully and turned her attention once more to Darren. Moments later, she gasped again, this time more urgently. “Kay and Eugene! And Mary on the roof!” She stuck her head out of the window a moment later and called for the younger girl to come down. “Your majesty, Kay is the oldest girl here, and she has been ill a long time. She was helping Eugene and we think that the Master put her into the room across the hall.” The king nodded. “Peter, did you take the keys from the prisoner?”“Yes, your majesty,” the guard answered stiffly, presenting the keys to him. “Come, young lady. What is your name?”“Candi.”“Candi. Would you bring us to your friend?”“Yes, your majesty,” she nodded vigorously but cast a concerned glance at Darren. He nodded, as if what she had been saying was the only thing that made sense, or maybe it is the concern on her face, the same concern that they all share. Candi darts out the door after they lock eyes for a moment and stands beside the locked door on the opposite side of the narrow hallway. She is not certain, but she thinks that she hears a slight murmur of sound coming through the door as the king catches up to her. He glares at the ring of keys in his hand as he begins to shuffle through them for one to fit the lock.“I don’t imagine that he ever let you see what keys worked in which locks?” He grunted. Candi shook her head and gnawed on her bottom lip as the king tried another key in the door. No luck. The next two proved just as fruitless, and Candi felt that she was about to burst by the time the king fitted the next key into the lock, and the lock clicked. Candi drew a sharp breath. Afraid, really, to see the sight that awaited her, she allowed the king to go in first, not having any idea that what he was doing was considered dangerous as there could be literally anyone behind that door. There wasn’t literally anyone. The pale, silver light outlined a lumpy shadowed leaning heavily upon the foot of the bed. She heard the king call for a lantern, and she waited, not taking her eyes from the shadow. It was as if she already knew what she would see, and she wanted to pretend, for a moment, that it wasn’t so. But the murmur that she’d heard beyond the door hadn’t ceased. It was husky, and too low to be Kay’s voice, and whatever words it was saying were too quiet and choked for her to make out, though she knew the rhythm well. A sob burst out of her lips when a lantern was passed to the king, and she saw what she knew had been there all along. Eugene leaned heavily against the bead, his face pale beyond belief, washed in a strange mixture of candle and moonlight. His arm carefully held Kay to his shoulder, his lips whispered words in a quiet, memorized cadence - the tales of Flynnigan Rider. What else would he be whispering so fervently to the cold body leaned against him that he hadn’t the strength to move. Kay’s face was turned down, and though Candi wanted to believe that she was sleeping, she knew that it was too much to hope. Her eyes looked mostly closed, as if She were looking through her lashes. Tears streamed freely down the boy’s cheeks as he continued his story. As he ended it. No one moved, because Candi held her arm up to stop them. Still no one moved, perhaps this time out of surprise, when Kay’s mouth turned up in the slightest smile, and in a sigh her whispered words, “Thank you, Eugene,” became her last. Eugene closed his eyes tightly, as if no one had been there watching him, and perhaps he didn’t realize it, perhaps he hadn’t heard the commotion and cacophony. “Kay?” He sobbed, “Kay?” She didn’t answer, of course, and Candi had the thought that he knew that she wouldn’t. She dropped her arm as a hideous sob broke out of the older boy, and let adults take control of things, adults who truly cared about something outside of themselves. It had been a long time since she’d been able to do that. ————————————Eugene awoke for the sixth time that night and grimaced at the acid feel of his shredded skin beneath the bandages. It didn’t matter that it had been a week now since the true character of the Master had been revealed to the king and queen, that he’d had a week to heal. A week hadn’t been enough. Ryden and Abby had returned with the king and queen, but they had also left with them. One of the scullery maids had offered to take charge, and was provisionally in charge. So far she’d seemed to do a good job, but again, it had only been a week. He’d tried to speak to Darren, but Candi and Ryden had told him the story of what the master had done to him, what had happened in the barn, and how Abby had fallen in the river, along with everything else that he had missed. Darren may never be able to hear properly again, and Eugene was having a difficult time not blaming himself. He couldn’t just lie here any longer.Eugene grunted softly as he moved to sit up. It didn’t hurt nearly as much to move any more. His back had been well tended, but the royal physician hadn’t had the same gentle touch as Kay. The boy’s breath caught at the thought of his friend, his sister. She was gone now, just gone, like everyone from before. He still felt the coldness of her skin against his, still felt how his gut had clenched and churned as he struggled to suppress the horror of memory that was attached to that feeling, forced himself to remember that, though she had been dying, Kay had still alive, unlike the cold, heavy bulk of the grown up - whether man or woman, he could not recall - who had died defending him with their body, but who had, as a result, trapped beneath them for hours until a wanderer came along and heard his snuffling. He glanced about the room, and knew that he couldn’t stay here anymore. He knew how Kay would have scolded him, how he was, in a way, abandoning the others, but he he just couldn’t stay, not even with the master gone. Because the Master was gone was really the only reason that he could leave. He had done what he could for everyone here, and now Eugene Fitzherbert would disappear for good, would never be seen or heard from again. Eugene only brought misery or death to other people, and that had to end. The boy reached around and touched his back, gratified that he no longer cried out with pain with every touch. His fever was gone, his body had regained some of its strength. The rest of the children would forgive him someday, he hoped. Someday he would return and give them what they had never been able to have, treats and fine foods and any number of things. He would become something that Kay always saw in him; an adventuring, swashbuckling rogue of the highest quality. On bare, silent feet he rose. He noted the deeply sleeping guard at his side and swiped his boots though they looked like they would be just a bit too large for him. He hoped that the man would forgive him and that the king would reimburse him for the loss, but right now Eugene needed them more. No. Not Eugene. Eugene Fitzherbert had died with Kay. The boy slunk to the open window and looked out at his clear path of escape into the woods that Antoine had always sworn was filled with wolves. The boy squared his shoulders, tucked the boots under his arm, and slipped through the open window. He never looked back.
A Tale of Flynnigan Ryder 11A Tale of Flynnigan Ryder
“The master is finally letting us eat?” Candi breathed as the bell clanged suddenly from the kitchen. Christopher was, unsurprisingly, still clinging to her, which made it more difficult for her to continue her patching, but she was managing. “It seems too early,” she murmured to herself this time, and the girls with her couldn’t be certain whether she was talking of literal supper time or of the fact that not one, but two of their number had been swept away on the river - wasn’t it time to be mourning them instead of eating? To be certain, they were all starved by now, but the loss of those extra twocast a dark pall over the whole little assembly. It was difficult even now to think of food. But of course, how silly of her. From the perspective of
Antoine, it had been - given the shadows that she could see from the window - probably slightly more than an hour now, probably closer to two, so it
A Tale of Flynnigan Rider - Chapter 10
A Tale of Flynnigan Rider
Darren didn’t know how long he had been lying there unable to hear a thing, his head swimming so that it was difficult to move. Antoine hadn’t moved either, and Darren could only think, from the look on the man’s face, that the Master would be in a similar state of enrapture if every one of the children were being roasted alive in that blaze. He shuddered, not realizing for a moment that his body had done so in reply to pain.
His head hurt like it never had before, and no amount of closing his eyes was making that pain go away. His ears in particular - but that was why his entire head was throbbing in the first place. He rolled over onto his side and watched the house, waiting for Ryden to return with some word on Kay and Eugene. He hadn’t been terribly long, but if the master were to wrench himself away from this spectical, would he wonder at the absence of the other boy? And…what was Antoine thinking? There was
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