With all that has happened these past few months, my life has been the public announcement of a town crier. It’s quite daunting when I think about it. It’s scary living in a glass box.
Tessa was the only way I made it through. She’s an open book. Didn’t believe in keeping secrets of her own.
Whenever I was blue, she would regale me of a story about her childhood or her fiance or things the boys did before I came.
Merlin was limited with his stories. All of them - the few he shared - were before the age of ten and after he went to Camelot to live with his uncle. I guess that was when Alwyn came to live with him and his mother.
Alwyn was a steel trap. He only talked about things that happened since I came to live with them. I don't know if it hurts to remember, he's trying to hide something, or he's just a private person.
I never knew where I stood with him. He was quiet, rarely talked without being talked to first. And when we were alone, he would go about his chores and tasks like I wasn't there until I needed help.
After the years we were all together, I only remember one time when he opened up to me.
It was close to evening and we were getting ready for supper. Alwyn’s job was to collect more firewood and Tessa was starting a fire with what we had left. Mine was to start dinner as Merlin prepared the fish we caught earlier.
Not long after we started, Merlin and Tessa were called away. Two children from the nearby town fell into an old well. Our cabin was the first place their friends found. Merlin and Tessa were more than eager to help, leaving me alone waiting for Alwyn to come back.
I don’t know how long it was before Alwyn’s voice boomed from the doorway. “Dorothy, do you need some help?”
I was fully extended on my tiptoes, trying to reach the top shelf. It was probably a good six inches from my fingertips. Merlin always got things down from there before I knew I needed them so I was determined to do it myself.
I told him no before giving my best jump. I closed in. Only an inch away, before falling back to the ground. I landed hard on my rear and was sprawled out like my last ice skating fail. With my hand on my face, I whimpered out a yes.
He quietly walked over and stopped right in front of me. He pulled down the bowl I was trying to get, not even needing to extend his arm all the way.
After he put it on the table, I thought he would leave until I felt his rough hands on mine.
“Dorothy-” he guided my arms away - “it's okay.” He wiped the tears away from the corner of my eyes. “You still got some growing left in you. I see it every day. It might not happen as fast as you want it to, but it's still there, little by little.”
I didn't know what to say. What could anyone say to that? The words could ever express what that meant to me, so I went with the next best thing: a hug.
I think I scared him when I latched onto him. He gave a pretty loud grasp when he fell off his feet.
Lightly, he pushed my arms away. “Do you need any more help?” he stammered, scuffling to his feet.
“I should be fine until Merlin gets back,” I mumbled back still on the floor. I felt like I did something wrong and it ran to my cheeks.
By the time I got up, he had bolted out the door.
I moped to the table. I wanted to follow but my feet refused to go in that direction. They decided it was better to finish my work.
When it was done, the fish were staring at me. Merlin still wasn’t back and the sun was crawling into the window.
When I walked outside, Alwyn was still trying to place wood on Tessa’s dead fire. His back was to me, so I couldn’t tell why he had a hand by his face.
I stepped on a stick about a yard away. He immediately shot his arms to his sides. “Can you do the fire thing?”
He moved away as I came close. I knelt down close to the pit. With a snap, flames popped. “They’re not back yet, are they?”
“No,” he said, sitting adjacent to me. “But don’t worry. I bet they’re just taking their time.”
“I know you’re worried, too,” I said, drawing my knees close.
“I’m always worried.” He mimicked me.
“For a good reason,” a voice boomed.
A pair of glowing golden eyes and a beaming white smile appeared on the other side of the fire.
In his usual lightning fashion, Alwyn grabbed my hand and yanked me into the woods.
“You can run but you can’t hide, Alwyn!” the man yelled into the night, launching his followers.
“Alwyn! Slow down!” I begged as I tripped over another root. “Alwyn, what’s going on?! Who was that?!”
He stopped like a cliff. “I promise,” he ran his free hand over my cheek, “I’ll explain, but not now, not here. We need to keep going.”
As he took another step, a humongous shadow landed in front of him. “Don't you think you've gone far enough.”
Alwyn drew me close as he backed us away.
Thudding into something behind them that was there before, they yelped.
“Where do you think you're going?”
In the space between, a new person ripped me from him. “Who's this, now?” they said as another lifted Alwyn by his collar.
I could barely see with the thug's fat hand covering most of my face to stop me from screaming. Through the cracks, I made out Alwyn thrashing and kicking at his captor. Then with a laugh, the man dropped Alwyn back to the ground that was no longer near his feet.
Golden eyes wasn't far behind. He knelt and pulled Alwyn's head up by his hair. “You should know better than to run away from home. Prince!” he spat.
Dropping Alwyn's face into the dirt, he shot his beams at me. “Load them up, King Folen will want to know what his son's been up to.”
At the man's words, Alwyn leaped up and got his arms ready to push.
The man turned and without moving a muscle sent Alwyn backward into the closest tree.
With my elbow at the right height, I sent it back into the thug. As he fell back, I ran to Alwyn's side.
I was barely there a second when Golden eyes picked me up by my braid. “You foolish girl,” he said, making my world go dark.
When Alwyn woke up, he was laying in a four-poster bed. He stretched until he realized where he was. He whipped all about before his ears perked up.
“Don't cry, Dorothy,” he said, hopping off the bed.
He sat next to me on a bench. “Everything's going to be okay,” he continued, partway putting an arm around me.
“Why did he call you Prince?” I squeaked through the tears.
“Dorothy,” he groaned.
“Why did he call you Prince?” I repeated, lifting my head. “Who is he? You promise to explain everything!”
“And I don't break my promise,” he said pushing his shaggy hair behind his pointed ears. “He called me prince because I am one. And it's not the first time this has happened…”
Four figures in dingy clothing and face covering laid in the shadows of the growth next to a forest road. Their leader gestures to the incoming carriage. They all got ready to pounce.
Alwyn - about five or six years younger - stayed low behind a row of bushes further back, spying on the figures. When they went into action, so did he.
Halfway through his bounce over the bush, a hand rip-corded him back. The hand gripped like a dog to its bone. His golden eyes pierced Alwyn's. “What are you doing out here?” He snarled.
Kicking his feet, Alwyn yelled, “Put me down, Vamir!”
“As you wish.” He released his hand.
Not catching himself, Alwyn pancaked on the ground. “You know that's not what I meant!”
“Come on, kid,” Vamir picked him back up by his collar, “before you get us both killed.” He started dragging him away from the violent scene taking place on the road.
Alwyn barely got in any steps as they went back home. They approached a crumbling castle. With Vamir watching their surroundings, they disappeared, engulfed by light.
Now, they were facing a pristine kingdom. Vamir slowed and made Alwyn stand up straight as people began to stare. “Don’t draw any attention!” he whispered.
“You know who I am. They know who I am. Maybe you shouldn’t have forced me to my father’s parties,” he smirked.
“Just keep moving, or else-”
“Or else I'll be sleeping in the dungeon or the stocks or whatever old contraption you've found that the humans left behind.”
Pressing his nails into his palms, he opened his mouth, saying nothing.
They walked in silence until they entered the throne room. King Folen was talking with his advisor. However, when he saw his son and Vamir, he ordered everyone.
Knowing all too well what was going to happen, the members scurried out like rats on a sinking ship.
"Can I have a moment with my son, Vamir," Folen asked, sitting on his throne.
With the doors closed, he continued, “Come here, Alwyn.”
Alwyn’s gaze dropped as he walked forward. He sat down on the steps in front of his father’s chair, the usual spot for his lectures.
“Where did you go this time?”
“Just past the ravine,” he squeaked.
“That’s a few miles from here. Why were you there?”
Alwyn crossed his arms and lowered his head.
“Why were you there?” he insisted.
“There’s been a string of robberies on the road.” The words were barely audible.
“You went that close to the humans. What were you thinking? Did anyone see you?”
“No, no.” He threw his hand to his face.
“You could’ve been hurt.”
“I was just trying to help,” he said, with tears bubbling up.
“I know you do-” he placed a hand on his son's shoulder- “it’s your best quality. But you can’t just go running around. You’re endangering all of us every time you leave. You’re endangering the peace we’ve had since your great grandfather.”
Everything dried but Alwyn still couldn’t project. “This isn’t peace.”
“This isn’t peace!” He jumped to his feet. “I don't want to hurt you. Or our people. But this is no life for me or them. We can't keep hiding in this bubble hoping no one will find us. Every year inching away from the border to make sure of it. This isn't peace. This isn't freedom. We locked ourselves in a cage before our enemies could!”
“Go to your room!”
In horror, Alwyn shrunk as he was knocked down a step. His mouth dropped. He mumbled some sounds.
“Now!” Folen raged, throwing his hand up towards the door.
The word sent Alwyn down the rest of the stairs and the length of the room. With his hand on the door handle, he turned back. “You know one of these days, I’m not going to be afraid and you’re gonna have to listen to me.”
With a slam of the door, Alwyn ran past Vamir. The stone walls closed in the closer he came to his room. He face-planted into his pillows. With a swirl of his hand, he caused the curtains to blow closed, stopping the world from crushing him.
“Alwyn,” Folen announced, making his usually later that day apology knock on the door, “can I come in? Alwyn?” He knocked again before entering.
“Alwyn, can we talk?"
Walking towards the bed, he asked, “Son? Are you awake?”
When he whipped the curtains open, he was thrown back. The bed was empty. The curtains on the other side were wide opened, revealing the torn through wardrobe and the opened window that recently started chilling the room.
“Vamir!” he shouted, fleeing the room.
In the full moonlit night, Alwyn landed heavily on his hands and feet to the ground below his window just moments before his father found him gone. He wiped the streaks from his face. Barely back on his feet, Vamir's name sent him running as fast as he could.
The ground around the castle was fairly flat. But, as the sounds of Vamir and his men got louder and closer, he zoomed through the shield into the rough terrain of the forest.
The more he tried not to, the more he tripped over everything in his path. He had a big spill over a decomposing log. Rolling down the hill, he scraped his arms and legs on protruding rocks and twigs, landing halfway in a stream.
Laying there, he looked back up from where he fell. The blurred lights from Vamir's men's lanterns ran across the ridge and onward. They missed him.
With a burst of enthusiasm, Alwyn sat up gritting his teeth with a grunt. He rocked himself, getting momentum to stand. Falling immediately, he splashed fully into the stream.
The water had tints of red as it flowed back the way he came.
Soaking wet and freezing in the summer night, he shimmied away from the hill. He crawled a bit before shifting up to his feet. Every few steps, he fell forwards onto his hands before regaining the strength to walk again.
His eyelids fluttered like the moonbeams through the canopy. Though he was hunched over, looking straight at the ground, he tripped over another root.
After the cloud of dust settled back down, he faced a hollowed tree big enough for him. Shaking like the twig in the wind he was, he snuggled into the space. His eyes closed as the rain started to fall.
“Are you alright?” A quiet and gentle voice called out.
Alwyn’s eye trickled open until he saw the figure. He immediately patted his hair over his ears.
“Are you alright?” A boy came into view, leaning in.
Alwyn groaned with his head sunk into his chest.
“Come on,” he said, hoisting Alwyn up, “I’m taking you to my house.”
Alwyn was shorter than the boy even more in his limp state. He dangled like a necklace. Lightly swinging, his side burned as the boy gripped him.
The trip was short in distance but took far longer than it should between Alwyn’s weight, the boy’s small frame, and heavy rain.
The village they came to was small. There were a few dozen houses and a small patch of farmland.
They came to the closest house to the forest. Nearly dropping Alwyn’s dead weight, he opened the door.
“Where have you been, Merlin! You’ve been gone all day!” A woman panicked. She sat with her back to the door, working with a loom. When she finished her line, she turned, knocking over her chair. “What happened?”
“He’s hurt. He fell down the hill that most people do.”
“Set him on the bed-” she took some clothes from her basket by her chair- “and go get some water.”
With the speed of a hare, Merlin did as she said. He only slowed to make sure he didn't hurt Alwyn any more than necessary while laying him down. In a flash, he came back with a bucket of water that he carried with straight arms that were already strained.
"Is he going to be alright, Mother?" he said, staring at Alwyn's fluttering eyes.
"I don't know. We will have to wait until morning." She soaked a towel in the water then pressed it against the gash on Alwyn's forehead. "Go to sleep, dear, I wake you up if things go wrong."
In the morning, Alwyn woozied awake. He exhaled heavily with his gaze scattering everywhere. Trying to prop himself up, he wasn't in the clothes he ran away in. Now, he was in a baggy russet shirt, similar trousers, and cloth-bandages wrapping most of his limbs.
"Good morning," Merlin's mother said, coming to his side, "I'm Hunith, and you already know my son, Merlin."
"Hello," he stuttered, "Alwyn."
"Hello, Alwyn. Are you hungry? Breakfast will be done soon."
The next week was the same. Alwyn woke to Hunith and Merlin's pleasantness. He would help Merlin with his chores then they would spend the rest of Merlin's usual chore time goofing around.
The afternoon of the seventh day they were playing hide and seek. Alwyn ran through the field between Merlin's house and the forest. He snickered as butterflies floated alongside.
He turned his head back then found himself on the ground with the field mice.
“The fun's over, Prince,” Vamir said towering over him.
Vamir ripped him up before he could say anything. “You waste my time. I should have known you would be here.”
“Let go,” Alwyn cried, “it hurts!”
“Good! You can sympathize with the mess you've put your father through.” He moved back towards the forest.
“Not another word!” He yanked Alwyn forward.
Merlin came around the house. His head scanned across the field. “Hey! What are you doing?!”
He ran up to them with ease. “What are you doing?!”
“Get away. This doesn't concern you.” Vamir pushed him to the ground.
“Merlin!” Alwyn shouted as Vamir yanked him again.
“Let go of him!” Merlin said, popping back up.
Vamir ignored him.
“Let go of him!” he repeated. He stared intensely at them.
Vamir was thrown forward. Getting back to his feet, he fleed.
“You alright?” Merlin asked Alwyn in his arms. “I guess we both have some explaining to do.”