Two days later…
Korle stopped at the fork in the road. She looked one way, the the other.
“Great.” She muttered. “Just perfect.”
She moved down the right fork. Her bright green eyes took in her surroundings, noting the little details, in case she had chosen the wrong path. As she walked, her strange cloth shoes squished a little and she left a very wet footprint. She was, in fact, wet all over. Her light blonde hair hung in strands and was lightly damp. Her brown ratty dress was completely soaked and dripping. Her eyes burned with a righteous anger as she marched along, looking for the next sign that would lead her along her way.
These directions, she thought, are awful! The Dartmonts had left her with nothing in the end.
“What happened to you?” a soft voice came from the woods and spoke of suppressed laughter.
She said nothing, plowing ahead, as if she heard nothing.
“You are absolutely drenched.” The voice called again. “What did they do to you?”
That ruffled her a bit. How could this person know that “they” had done this to her? She could have fallen in a lake, or poured a bucket of water on her head.
It’s logical. Why would I do this to myself? It’s obvious I’m miserable. She resolved to ignore the voice and move on, although her guard was now up. This stranger wanted something from her.
“The Dartmonts are cruel. Taking you in was the only good thing that wretched woman ever did.” This stopped her cold in her tracks. Then she saw him. A red-haired man leaned on a tree a few yards in front of her. “I know what they did to you, Korle.”
Yesterday, Korle had lived in a small, attic-like room in the Dartmont’s large mansion. She had worked as a maid for them, in exchange for room and board. They gave her the tiny room and three small, pitiful meals a day. It was better than starving. She had been weeding the garden, one of her last chores of the day, when she had heard the lord and lady talking about her.
“She’s a nuisance, Raoul. We cannot continue to allow her to live with us. She’s dirty, unkempt. And she’s an awful example for the children. Henry and Isabella should look up to someone of their own rank, rather than a scullery maid, with nothing to her name.”
“Well, my dear-”
“No, I am standing firm. We must get rid of her.”
She had heard many conversations like this before, so the words didn’t hurt as much as they had once. She had sighed and mentally began to make a list of things she’d need to do before moving out.
“She’s a nobody, with parents who were good-for-nothings. I am quite certain her mother was no more than a prostitute, selling herself on the streets. Her father was once respectable, but that all ended when he took the little whore for his wife.”
“Jemena, that’s not true. He-”
“Should have married Elinor, as planned. But that tramp seduced him, and got pregnant on purpose. There are charms for such things, but she knew he was honorable and would marry her if she got pregnant.”
“He’s either honorable, or a good-for-nothing, my dear. He cannot be both.”
While this conversation went on, anger grew in Korle. She had never known her parents, but she knew that they had loved each other. Her mother had been a commoner, but her father had fallen in love with her anyway, despite the difference in situation. Righteous anger welled up in her as she listened to that woman call her mother wicked names and impugn her father’s honor.
“He disgraced himself by marrying that bitch.”
“How dare you!” Korle had jumped up from where she was, startling the two nobles. “You may speak of me however you like, but how dare you insult my father and mother who can’t defend themselves!”
“Get back to your work, girl. I will speak of your parents however I choose.”
“Because you think you’re better than them? You’re petty and mean and a gossip. And you don’t know how to treat people!”
“Your mother was nothing more than a tramp who sold herself to your father for a piece of copper!”
The anger had welled up in Korle, her vision going blurry. And the next thing she knew she was flat on her back, the vines around the lady.
“OUT! GET OUT!” Jemena screamed. The groomsman had come and doused Korle in three buckets of water. Only then had the plants had released their hold of Lady Dartmont.
She had stood there, rigid, staring at Korle with daggers in her eyes. “You will leave this house IMMEDIATELY!”
So Korle had fled, without a thing. The family had given her directions to a local farmhouse a while back, in case the Governess Laurel made a surprise visit and she needed to take the children there.
“Why did they kick you out Korle?” The man’s question pulled her into the present.
“I don’t speak to strangers.” She straightened her spine and continued walking, a little faster this time. She didn’t know what he wanted, but she wasn’t about to stand there as ready prey for this stalker.
“This is the fifth family you’ve worked for, and things seem to go down hill faster at each place.” The man was following her. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Oh really?” the sarcastic comment flew from her mouth before she could check herself. She silently berated herself for responding to the man.
“No, I’m actually here to help you.” The humor had left his voice. “All of these strange incidents happen to you, but you’re not alone, Korle. There are more of us.”
She turned and looked at him, and took a step back, startled. His eyes were cat’s eyes, yellow in color.
“Um…” she shook herself out of it. “What do you mean?”
“I can explain everything, in a safer location.”
“I don’t even know who you are.”
He smiled charmingly. “Quite right.” He bowed. “I am Peebles of the wizarding world. I also have a stone.” He pulled on a thin leather strap around his neck. From beneath his shirt came a red stone disc pendant. She stared at it and her hand flew to the yellow locket around her neck.
“What does that have to do with anything?” She asked, meeting his eyes again.
“I can explain once we’re in a place of safety.” His eyes pleaded with her.
She had done a lot of reckless things before, but even she knew better than to leave with a stranger, unaware of their destination. After a few seconds of looking into those eyes a feeling of dread settled at the bottom of her stomach and she heard her mouth form one word, “Okay.”
Suddenly, a black-haired man with compelling brown eyes stepped from the forest. Korle jumped back in surprise, but that was all the time she had before he grabbed her hand. The second he grabbed her it seemed like the world around her wrenched. She closed her eyes for a second, and when she opened them all she could see were colors flying past. She looked over and saw the other man, but no sign of Peebles. She looked down and saw the ground zooming past. Her head began to spin and nausea settled in her rolling stomach, making it tumble even more. She closed her eyes again, hoping to make the feeling go away, but it only grew worse. Just as suddenly, they stopped. Korle fell to the ground, onto her knees. The little food she’d managed to eat before her hasty departure came up. Cool hands brushed her hair back.
“I’m sorry, but it’s best not to warn you.” She looked up into those dark brown eyes. “The first times’ the worst.” His deep baritone voice soothed her frazzled nerves. He held out a wet square of linen.
She took it and wiped her mouth. “Thank you.” Her voice was raspy and her throat hurt. She stood shakily and found herself facing a small, bright red house with orange shutters.
“Where are we?” She swallowed, trying to get the taste out of her mouth.
“Olan’s house.” The man replied.
She glanced behind her and saw yellow eyes stare out from the trees surrounding the little clearing. “Where’s Peebles?”
“He shape-changed and followed us.” A panther slunk out of the forest. Korle jumped and a squeak issued from her.
The man smiled. “Don’t worry, it’s just Peebs. This is a favorite of his.” He gestured to the large cat. “I’m Amikol, his brother.” He bowed. “I apologize for not introducing myself earlier.” His smile was warm and friendly.
“Oh, um…that’s all right.” She replied, feeling uncomfortable. “Who is Olan?”
“We’ll explain all that later.” He stood straight. “Shall we go in?”
Fear washed over her as she realized what a predicament she was in. She didn’t know who these men were, and they were leading her into the oddest house she had ever seen. What have I done? She swallowed and tried to smile.
“Come.” He led the way to the house. Korle thought about running, but Peebles the panther was behind her, so she decided to follow Amikol into the strange building.
She passed through the doorway, certain that she was entering a dungeon of some sort, meant to keep her locked away for whatever devious purpose these two men had in mind.
“Oh,” Amikol paused and, wincing, turned to face her. “I apologize for-”
“FINALLY!” The shrill, high voice, came from above and Korle’s fear turned to shock. The inside of this small, little cottage was like that of a large, airy mansion. It was bigger than the Dartmont’s house.
A young woman stomped down the grand staircase to Korle’s left. “I have been waiting for almost THREE days for you two to return!”
“I think she woke up.” Peebles soft sarcasm came from behind Korle and she turned to see the man standing there, not the panther he had been a moment ago.
Amikol gave him a look. “I can see that Peebs.” He turned back to the blonde on the stairs. “Welcome back.”
She reached the landing. “I have been awake practically since you left. I demand that you explain yourself!” her voice rose, taking on a shrill quality that hurt Korle’s ears. She winced a little and notice a huge painting on the wall.
“Wow.” She whispered, going to examine it.
The blonde noticed her for the first time. “Who is that?” her tone relayed her distaste for the subject in question and her snobby manner.
“That is Korle, another Nomoree that we found.” Amikol supplied. “Korle, this is Karstrel de Lunar,” he said her title with a mocking, pompous tone. She glared at him and curtsied to Korle, who wasn’t paying attention.
Karstrel looked at Korle and rolled her eyes. “No manners at all. Another country bumpkin.” She muttered.
“We ‘country bumpkins’ have excellent hearing.” Peebles smiled dangerously at her.
Korle was still staring at the painting.
“I don’t remember that portrait being there yesterday Peebs, who is it of?” Amikol inquired.
“I don’t know, it just appeared today, or possibly another time during our absence.”
“No,” Karstrel put in with all the authority of her rank, “it…arrived today. This house is completely unnatural.” She shivered slightly, looking around her.
“It’s my parents.” Korle whispered. The picture was of a man and a woman, facing each other and holding hands. They were on a shore of some sort and a body of water extended behind them. Both of their faces were peaceful, neither smiling, but happy nonetheless. The woman was beautiful and petite with light blonde hair, almost white, much like Korle’s. The man was strong, courage evident in every aspect of his being. His eyes shone fiercely with love and an anger that seemed to contradict each other. Both were wearing black. The bottom of the painting had lighter, more serene colors, and the water lapping the shore looked tranquil. However, as the water stretched out behind them, it grew dark and shapes hovered just below the surface of the water.
“They drowned.” Her voice, although soft, was easily heard by the three others, who had hushed into silence. She looked at Amikol, tears in her eyes. “Who painted this?”
“I don’t know.” He replied softly.
“What is this place?” She turned back to the painting, one tear making its way down her cheek.
Amikol and Peebles exchanged looks.
“Come,” Peebles laid a hand gently on Korle’s shoulder. “I’ll show you to your room.”
Reluctantly, she turned from the picture and followed Peebles upstairs. She took each step slowly, contemplating her parents, the picture, and the strange house to which she had been brought. When she reached the top of the stairs, her jaw dropped again and all thoughts cleared from her mind. Before her was a maze of sorts. There was a large circle, a foyer-type of area, out of which were six distinct hallways. Some turned, so one could not see where they went, others went straight a long way, so that the door seemed incredibly small.
Two days later…