She could feel the cold of the stones through her slippers. Fern thought fondly of her boots that were tucked away under her bed. She would look obscured traipsing through the castle with boots on, not to mention they tended to be louder when she was trying to sneak around. She really had no hope of being a pure lady or a pure soldier. She loved the fine dresses she’d been squeezed into all month. She felt beautiful in them but she wished they were made a little more practical. She would ask for some pockets in the next dress she got. She hated the idea of having to keep all her personal items tucked down the front of her dress. She wasn’t filled out enough to really hold anything in place. Fern suspected that anything placed between her breasts would tumble down through her dress to the floor. Wouldn’t that be embarrassing?
She could just imagine her tutor’s wooly eyebrows knit together as she was lectured over that. Fern was pretty sure she’d die of embarrassment or worse. She paused on the stairs to listen. During the day, she was always running into people on these twisting stairs. It was busy place with soldiers, clerks, and maids climbing up and down the backside of the castle.
Fern wasn’t a servant, only the daughter of one of head scribes under the Secretary to the King. She didn’t have any station that would permit her to wander in the front half of the castle. Though she did poke her head out sometimes to watch the princess and her maids in truly gorgeous gowns and jewels glide by. Fern loved her dresses, but next to the princess’s she might as well be a scullery maid. She wasn’t really jealous. She couldn’t imagine how any woman could walk around in that much material and not trip over her feet every other step. Fern was not the most graceful of girls. Her own skirts stopped an inch before hitting the ground at her father’s insistence. Plus, it made it much easier to run whenever she was given the chance to go outside. She waited until she got past the formal gardens before she ran down the backside of one of the hills. Sometimes she’d bring her sword to run through the different stances her brother taught her, just so she wouldn’t forget. She wanted to show him the progress she’d made when he came back to visit. She hoped he’d still be able to visit her now that she was living in the castle. Her father had given up their house, when her mother had died.
The hallway was empty and quiet and a wave of loneliness rolled over her. She was more and more feeling invisible since moving into the castle with her father. Sneaking around at night only reinforced that idea in her head more. She ran her hand over the cold stone of the wall ready to disappear into it if a guard should round the corner. Fern half-believed that she could walk by a guard and not be seen. It had been so long since her own father had taken notice of her that she wondered if she’d slipped into some half-world. She closed her eyes and listened for the throbbing that started up whenever she walked this lower hallway, day or night. No one else seemed to notice it. She watched their faces but they didn’t turn their head to determine where the sound came from. No one else pressed their hand to their chest where the throbbing pressed against her own beating heart, changing its rhythm to match its own. It was some invisible force that only the invisible could feel. She tread across the open hallway and to the same stonewall where her nighttime hunts ended every night. There were no doors anywhere close. She pressed her hand against the wall. It was never cold. It was as warm as anything breathing creature and the throbbing pressed against her hand.
Was there a secret passage through this wall? She wiped her damp hands against her skirt and then began to trace the seams of the stones for signs of levers or buttons. The torch flickered wildly behind Fern and she turned, but the hallway was still empty. The thrumming stopped and only the sound of the flame whipping in the breeze filled the hallway. The torch went black as Fern heard the grated of stone on stone and she backed to the wall behind her. The stonewall nearly crushing her, but stopped as it pressed into her stomach.
“The torch went out again.” A deep voice spoke from inside the hidden room. “Hand me that torch.”
Fern’s heart pounded and she pressed against the cold stone at her back. I’m invisible. I’m invisible. They can’t see me.
Two sets of footsteps crossed the hallway to the dead lantern. Fern could see the broad shoulders of the man carrying the torch silhouetted against his torchlight. A shorter bent form stood further back in the shadows. The wall that rested against her, blocked most of her view of him. He hummed to himself. After the tall man lit the wall torch, he turned to speak to the smaller man, but his air caught in his throat. Fern opened her eyes and was met with a wide-eyed gaze. She smiled limply.
The smaller man stopped humming and leaned around the wall.
“Well, hello there.” He smiled through a long gray beard.
Writing prompt: Pure
Photo credit: Rene