Chapter Two: The Road to Pent
“Are you hungry?” Marcus interrupted as he removed a small basket from a compartment under his chair. “There is not much, just some leftover fruit and cheese, but the castle is only a few more hours from here so it will go to waste if we do not eat it now.” He reached into the parcel and removed an apple. “Here, this is still good.” He said as he stood up in the carriage and sat next to the girl. He leaned in close to her with the fruit in front of him. She instinctively leaned away, and for a second, he paused staring into her eyes before smiling jokingly. They both laughed as she took the fruit.
“Thank you. You are most kind,” the young girl said before she took a bite.
“It is nothing. At the start of the trip, I had all sorts of wonders. All that is left is this.” He trailed off, realizing his subject choice was a little poor. “Well, food is food!” he said chuckling as he took a bite of his apple. “What did you say your name was again?”
“You never asked,” the girl pointed out.
“How rude of me, please tell it to me, then,” Marcus said between bites.
“Everyone calls me Anny. It is short for Antoinette,” the girl explained.
“How wise of you to shorten it!” Marcus teased.
Anny smiled and said, “You know you do surprise me, Marcus. They say you are a great prince…”
“But I don’t act like one,” Marcus interrupted her. “True, true, it is all my brothers’ fault. I was the middle of three brothers. My elder brother was to assume the throne, but he died of a strange illness. My remaining brother was then to assume the throne, but he also fell to an untimely death.”
Anny gasped horrified.
Marcus chuckled, reassuringly clarifying, “the death I speak of is a spiritual one! The poor fool lives on, but only for himself. He has taken the luxury to go traipsing off looking for some deep spiritual meaning to life where there isn’t any. The older one I mean. No, just the older one. The younger he is dead: yes, dead as dead can be.
“They were so concerned with the crown when they were young, but I wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, since I was ten, I’ve been wandering these roads in search of real wisdom and adventure!”
“And did you find it?” Anny asked when he had finally stopped.
“Well, a little I suppose before these damn guards tracked me down and brought me back home,” Marcus said as he made a rude gesture out the window. “Actually, it was on one of my last trips that I heard this story you speak now, but it has to be years since those times, fifteen maybe twenty.”
“You mean you have heard this story before?” Anny said surprised.
Marcus chuckled. “Well of course! Who has not heard the famed story ‘The Myth of Arden’! Though no one tells it quite as well as you do. Tell me again where you first heard it.”
“My mother told it to me. She was the head cook in a great house,” Anny said as she gazed out the window.
“Ah, and whose house was that?” Marcus asked. He had finished his apple and threw the core out the window in front of Anny’s gaze.
Anny looked back at him disgruntled and said, “Well it was a great house in the small town near where you found me. I would not be surprised if you had never heard of it.”
“I have been from one coast to the other of this silly country. I bet I have heard of the place and probably dined there too,” Marcus assured her.
“Well, the village nearby is called Fay Hill,” Anny said hesitantly.
“Ah, good old Fay Hill! That is just outside of Reed? Am I remembering correctly?” Marcus asked jovially.
“You could not have possibly heard of it!” Anny insisted.
“And why not?” Marcus quipped.
“Because it is so small!” the girl replied while crossing her arms.
“Why I was there just three years ago sighing a peace treaty with those fine people, though I do not remember you being there. It is nearer to the border of Paultry in Arden right?” Marcus said with a triumphant smile.
“Yes. I guess it is,” Anny conceded.
“See, but what I do not quite understand is why a young and pretty girl such as yourself would be traveling alone from there. Come now, you can tell me,” the man said with a wink.
Anny’s shoulders slumped, and she went on to explain, “Well, suffice to say all of my family is dead and so I am seeking refuge at the nearest castle. I hear there are jobs available that will provide food and shelter.”
“But that is no good,” Marcus said firmly. “You would be stuck there the rest of your life! Why not stay at the estate and indenture yourself there? They would treat you much better.”
“I have no skills,” she said with a sigh as she held out her hands as if to prove that they were worthless.
“But you grew up in a great house. You must have learned something,” Marcus pointed out.
“I am sorry I did not,” Anny said. “I must be a slow learner.”
Marcus slapped his hands together and said, “Well in the least you can tell stories.”
“That is the only story I know,” Anny confessed sadly.
“But you tell it so well!” Marcus assured her. “Tell you what, you go ahead and take a position at the castle in Pent, which is where we are going. If by the time I must leave the castle for my own, you are not happy I will pay your fees and take you as my own. Once at my castle, you would be treated with the best of care, and I will make certain of it.”
Anny looked at him skeptically. She was sure she knew exactly why he would make such an offer, and it had nothing to do with chivalry. “But why would you do that?” she finally mustered the courage to ask.
Marcus turned to her, and for a brief moment as he spoke she felt like a mask had slipped from his face. “Because I know you are lying to me about certain things, and I hope that by being nice you may open up a little to me,” he said softly.
“But I am not lying!” she blurted out, her face turning all shades of red.
“If you say so,” Marcus said.
“Well, why should I tell you anything anyway?” Anny said, flustered.
Marcus shrugged his shoulders and said, “You are right. You are under no compulsion, but I wish you would trust me a little.”
They sat for a moment, the both of them, with arms crossed staring out opposite windows of the carriage.
“He is mocking me,” the young girl thought to herself. “Tell me, how famous is this story I tell you?” Anny said, finally breaking the silence.
“I would guess everyone alive knows it or at least everyone who has a common border with Arden, which is everyone,” Marcus informed her.
“And who told it to you?” Anny asked.
“I have just heard it my whole life,” Marcus said dismissively. “Except, I should say that if you wish to tell it to anyone else, then you ought to get the names right.”
“What do you mean?” Anny asked.
“Well it is the king who is called Ramoth,” Marcus began. “Ramoth means ‘great leader’, so you can see it is more of a title than a name. But you do have the queen’s name right, which is quite impressive. As for this strange man who you call Ramoth, perhaps he was Cailar as he seems to have the position of head advisor. You know: one who holds no words in the king’s presence.”
“Well then, shall I finish this great story or would you have me stop seeing as you know it already?” Anny asked dejectedly.
“No, no, go on!” Marcus insisted. “I do wish to see how it ends according to you though you do realize that the king you speak of is one of my best friends but forget that now as this story is entirely fiction.”
Anny nodded and agreed, “Yes, it is.”
“Then continue, and I will try not to let the name’s scrambling get in the way of the story,” Marcus said as he leaned back into his seat.
“Well, I left off when Ramoth had gone to see the king then?” Anny tried to recall.
“Yes, yes. Go on,” Marcus muttered.
Taking a deep breath, Anny continued…
Chapter 2: Part 2 coming soon!