Elizabeth Isabel Marie Anne Dain pulled her black hood over her head as she walked through the freshly snowed over streets of Guildenstar, not wanting people to recognize her lest she got into trouble. Winter had come early this year- it was almost the end of October, and her birthday was coming up soon. But for now she had to focus on her orientation. Although she had lived and grown up here her whole life, Elizabeth was constantly confined to the indoors.
Racking her brains as she trudged through the snow, she took a left turn onto a wide street, which was so used that the cobblestones were already managing to peek through the layer of white. One left, two right, and another left, go straight, she thought, an image of the village’s map flashing in her mind as she followed her instincts.
Glancing up, she smiled to herself, satisfied. A wide, dangling sign flashed above her as it reflected the sun’s last rays as the day began to fade, its hinges creaking faintly in the light, cool breeze. Her breath coming out in faint plumes, the teenage girl walked into the Golden Pony, shutting the cold out behind her.
Still shivering from the after effects of the cold that still clung to her body, Elizabeth sat herself down at a table meant for two people in the far corner of the large, boisterous room. The clamor in the pub was deafening, but it was better than the deadly cold outside that took away many lives over the course of three months.
Peering out from the shadows of her hood, Elizabeth’s emerald eyes took in everything they could hold as the girl waited for the bartender to come. It had been exactly four and a half weeks since she’d had enough time to take the risk to sneak back out into the town and come to the Golden Pony. She couldn’t help but notice a man who had an abnormally large frame sitting at a bar next to another so thin they were impossible to compare in size.
Tearing her gaze away, she smoothed out the folds of her simple, navy blue dress, and waited for the bartender, her ‘friend’ to come. He was more of an acquaintance, but the two had a lot of respect for each other.
“Yes, miss?” A female voice asked, leaning down to get a look underneath the hood. Elizabeth scowled in mild frustration, pulling the fabric of her cloak further over her face. She looked up to see a waitress clad in a simple farm girl dress with a bosom that was by far too large for the bodice. Elizabeth took a while to realize that the waitress was asking for her order. “Aren’t you a bit too young to be in a bar?” the waitress questioned, tapping her foot lightly against the ground to show she was waiting for Elizabeth to order.
“I do what I want, and when I want,” Elizabeth snapped, lying, but she wasn’t about to let the woman know that. “One hot cocoa, please,” she continued, changing the subject.
The waitress nodded and left to walk behind the counter, where wheat beer, a Guildenstar speciality, sloshed in great quantities to the floor. Careless servers, the thirteen year old thought, playing with the single flame that danced to and fro from a long white candle in front of her.
Then something caught her attention. A boy of about sixteen walked into the bar noisily enough, but he was ignored by all but the waitress and Elizabeth. His dripping wet and thin cloak clung to his dirty clothes, he had dark, auburn hair that fell in messy, unkempt bangs all over his forehead, though had a charming smile of what seemed to be relief as he closed the door behind him.
He seemed to Elizabeth like a farmer, bits of straw stuck out of his hair, and even from where she sat the young girl could see that his hands were covered in many callouses. From where she sat, Elizabeth could see that dark rings shadowed his eyes, giving them a hooded appearance. They stood out clearly against the pale contrast of his skin. He had high cheekbones and bright eyes, silver with a ring of gold around the pupil, like a wolf.
However, underneath the portrait of the tired, worn out, stable boy, Elizabeth had to admit he was rather handsome. Apparently the waitress thought so too, or found him more interesting than placing out Elizabeth’s order.
He was instantly overpowered by the waitress, who grabbed his hands, pulling him towards her, stroking his chest and taking him by surprise. Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Women these days, her thoughts told her. The boy angrily pulled away from the waitress and squeezed his way over to the bar, where he placed three rusty bronze coins, which could easily be recognized as Joncs, the least valuable part of the currency in Guildenstar and its neighboring country.
He shot the hooded figure in the corner an odd stare of mixed bewilderment, curiosity, and boredom. Elizabeth noticed and raised her hand to beckon him over to sit at her table, which was the only seat left in the pub, unless the boy was insane enough to squeeze himself between the two largely and thinly disproportionate men at one of the high chairs at the bar. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, he declined the offer, pushed his way to the counter, disappeared from view for a minute, and then came back out carrying a barrel of presumably beer. It could sustain a family for a winter, but could kill them too if they had too much. He was taking a huge risk.
Elizabeth watched him exit the Golden Pony, mildly angry with herself for losing her chance to make a friend and to speak with a commoner. She thanked the barman as he placed a steaming hot mug of cocoa in front of her. She pressed three silver Tarn into his hand. Only the wealthiest could afford cocoa, and she knew it.
As he sat down in front of her, she wrapped her hands around the mug and felt an involuntary shudder down her spine as the beverage warmed her up completely. Taking small but savoring sips, she looked at her acquaintance.
“Good evening,” he said, then teasing, because he knew she wouldn’t like it, “Your Highness.”
“Oh shut it,” Elizabeth snorted in her family’s faint English accent.
The barman himself had a faint Scottish one, and he smiled as he knocked his wooden mug of ale against her cocoa. “Cheers,” he said and drank from it.
“Cheers,” Elizabeth said sullenly.
Noticing there was something wrong with her, the man stood up. “Well, I’ll be seeing you around, yes, Lassie?” he said, and gave her a friendly clap on the back. She nodded from under the cloak, drinking some more cocoa, but only her physical form was still on earth as she looked out the window, where it was already night time. She finished the beverage quickly, and, refastening her cloak around her shoulders, swept out of the bar like a shadow. She didn’t even notice another man enter the bar, crossing her path as she left.
Elizabeth walked out on the street without even so much as a backwards glance, and slowly made her way back home. The first stars were already coming out, and a strong wind was brewing up. Elizabeth picked up her pace. She was not at all in the mood of continuing her way in the middle of a thunder- or snowstorm.
Her father and brothers were probably waiting for her. Relieved to see the oaken doors of the castle entrance hall in front of her, she forced her numb legs and feet to sustain her until she could collapse onto a couch.
Elizabeth walked over the portcullis and squeezed through the doors, which were always left slightly ajar for the guards to slip in and out of the castle. She closed them after her with a grunt, and immediately took off her cloak, wringing it over a bucket so as to not wet the floor. She had a certain respect for the servants, unlike her elder brother, Peter, who was the heir to the throne and a twenty three year old busy man, who had the potential to being a great brother, but who was too occupied with his tutors. He was determined in becoming a great ruler.
There was a good but faint relationship between the two, though Peter could sometimes be horrendous and unforgiving to his little sister. If he wanted to be.
Elizabeth removed her boots and socks and sat down next to the fire on a pillow, warming up her hands and feet. Thank goodness only the hem of her rich navy dress was wet. She thanked her servants for providing her with such great protection as she looked at the cloak which she had hung over the pail.
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes as she felt a sudden presence around her. Looking back, she called, “Hello?” Only the black, flickering shadows replied.
Shrugging, Elizabeth let her thoughts wander off again, getting lost between reality and dreams as her green eyes followed the dancing of the flames, that licked the marble hearth with a shimmering soft orange glow.
Elizabeth sighed and leaned against the leg of a couch, just as her cat, Shadow, pounced into the entrance hall, a strutting gait in his walk. He jumped onto her lap, his tiny claws digging into Elizabeth’s dress, and deposited a small brown thrush at her feet. The tiny creature was unstirring, its wings folded delicately at its sides. The girl picked the bird up in a silken handkerchief. Its tiny black eye opened up, not glassy but vibrantly scared, and it opened up its wings with a shrill birdcall, and fluttered away unsteadily. Elizabeth looked up as it landed on the windowsill, sang one last tune, and flew off into the darkness.
Elizabeth stroked Shadow’s grey fur absentmindedly, and he purred contentedly, his black-tipped tail wagging from side-to side. It was not long before his throaty vibrations against her skin lulled her to sleep.