Spirits of the Medicine Drum
« Chapter 1 »
Shamone was trying hard not to draw attention to herself. She had only recently survived a three-day adventure which had led her into the Black Canyon, the Temple of Avon Moon, the Emerald Crags, the Village of Shallow Vale and then to Snake Mountain, all of which had brought dangers of their own.
These unplanned adventures had not gone down well with her parents. So Shamone now found herself under scrutiny.
Her mother, Princess Opia had ordered maids, footmen, guards and her husband’s junior aide, Sabian, to make sure Shamone did not leave the castle grounds, unless she gave permission to do so. These restrictions did not stop Shamone from seeking new adventures, much to everyone’s frustration.
In the forest beyond the safe walls of Greytor Castle, Shamone ran as fast as her legs would carry her, but as she negotiated her way to the edge of the forest, she heard the thunder of hooves gaining.
Shamone knew it was too late to cross over the dirt track that led back to her castle because the rider would see her for sure. When the rider skidded to a halt on the road, Shamone ducked back into the forest.
“Stop right where you are!” A stern voice bellowed.
Like hell she would. Racing between clusters of tall shrubs and bracken, Shamone spied a large fallen tree. Leaping over it, she dropped to the ground and hunched beneath its rotting bark.
The rider followed on horseback but when he saw the fallen tree, he pulled hard on his reins to avoid colliding with it. With his path now blocked the rider jumped down from his saddle. Securing his horse to a tree, he drew his sword.
Shamone cursed when she heard twigs and branches snapping under the man’s heavy footfall. She even held her breath as he scrambled on top of the fallen tree. From his higher vantage point, he scanned the forest, his eyes narrowing like a raptor looking for prey. The guard did not rely on sight alone. Pausing he listened for the sounds of birds scattering from the boughs of trees.
Shamone was sure the guard could hear her elevated heartbeat. Closing her eyes, she forced her rapid breaths to slow.
The forest fell silent but the castle guard knew his quarry was still in the area, still close. “If you are wise you will show yourself. If you do not, you will wish you had heeded my warning.”
Shamone found it amusing that she could outfox her father’s guards. She knew the forests better than most and would escape into them to find peace and quiet.
Irritated the guard snapped, “This is your last warning.”
Trying not to make a sound Shamone willed the guard to leave. Seconds later, he turned and jumped down from the fallen tree, his boots thudding as he hit the ground.
Uncomfortable, Shamone dared to stretch out her legs. When the guard heard a twig snap, he moved back to the fallen tree. Leaping over it he made a grab for his assailant.
Shamone had moved behind a large beech tree to the left of the guard and holding her breath willed him to leave.
Cursing the guard headed back to his horse. Swinging into his saddle, he rode out of the forest and back onto the main road.
Following, Shamone watched as the guard glanced over his shoulder one last time. “Just leave you big oaf, I’m late already,” Shamone muttered.
The guard rode away.
Hurrying across the road, Shamone ran around the perimeter walls of her castle. On the south-facing wall at the back, she used a secret passageway shown to her by Ilengor, one of her father’s ex officers.
Pressing a block of stone in the high perimeter wall, Shamone entered the slim tunnel. Sealing it, she repeated the action at the opposite end. Entering the castle gardens, Shamone peered from behind a large shrub. When the coast was clear, she crossed the garden and hurried toward the castle’s south-west tower. Pressing a stone that opened another secret passageway, she entered. Shamone lit a torch on the wall with a piece of flint and small dagger. Sealing the passageway, she hurried up the spiralling steps to the second floor.
Using a lever, Shamone stepped out of the passage and into the stairwell of the tower. A large tapestry hid the stone block to the secret passage. Moving it aside, Shamone made sure the coast was clear before sealing the stairwell. With a wry smile, she exited the tower. Shamone’s private quarters were at the end of the corridor. To the right of the tower there was a flight of stairs leading down to the first floor.
Reaching her private quarters, Shamone motioned to enter but from inside she heard Sabian, her father’s junior aide, demanding that a maid tell him where she was.
Shamone tiptoed as fast as she could back down the corridor. Entering the tower she closed the door.
“If you see Her Highness tell her I wish to speak with her,” Sabian instructed as the maid hurried behind him.
“Yes sir,” the maid said.
The tower continued up to the third floor where the servants lived. Shamone however was more interested in heading to the ground floor to visit Fran, the head cook of the kitchens.
Racing down the steps, Shamone exited the tower. Hurrying up the corridor she turned left and down into the kitchens.
Startled by Shamone’s sudden appearance, Fran scolded, “Oh Your Highness, please don’t do that it always makes me jump.”
“Fran, I need to clean my clothes,” Shamone implored.
When Fran inspected Shamone, she saw mud and leaves all over her clothing. “What on earth have you been doing Your Highness?” Tugging on her trousers, she scolded, “This fabric cost your mother a small fortune and now look at you, it’s torn and covered in… exactly what is that Your Highness?”
Shamone glanced down at her trousers and wrinkled up her nose. “Rotten bark mud and leaves.”
Fran’s brow lifted in disapproval but choosing not to delve any deeper, she said, “Second thoughts Your Highness don’t tell me, it will only get me into trouble if I know the truth.”
“It’s not what you think. I didn’t get into a fight. I was in the forest hiding from Sabian’s guard,” Shamone said as if that was a reasonable thing for a princess to do.
Fran shook her head. “Why you don’t take an escort with you I’ll never know Your Highness.”
“Because escorts don’t allow me to venture into the forest to explore, nor do they let me wander off alone. Exploring the countryside alone is the only time I don’t have people telling me what to do.”
“Well I may not always agree with Sabian but he is right when he tells you it is unsafe to wander outside these castle grounds. Why do you think he orders guards to patrol the perimeter walls?”
“But avoiding Sabian’s guards is all part of the fun,” Shamone teased. “Sneaking past them and then getting back into the castle unseen makes life a little more exciting.”
Fran wagged a finger, scolding, “It’s no wonder you’re always in trouble Your Highness. You won’t listen to sense, which is why you are now late for greeting your guests.”
Shamone should have welcomed her guests in the library over an hour ago. “Why, are they here already?”
“They’ve been here for the past hour. Sabian is scouring the castle for you and he is not best pleased Your Highness.”
Shamone plucked an apple off the table, biting into it, she asked, “What did you tell him?”
Continuing her work, Fran replied, “I told him you were out wandering in the gardens somewhere.”
Gazing down at her tatty clothes, Shamone cursed. “I need to change into clean clothes but Sabian has put a maid in my room. What should I do?”
Fran gave Shamone a knowing look. “Pray for a miracle Your Highness.”
Jumping off the stool, Shamone said, “Quickly Fran, you have to help me, please.”
Fran pointed around the kitchen. “That could be difficult Your Highness, I have a dinner to prepare, not to mention I’m two girls short.”
Shamone gave Fran one of her more sorrowful looks. “But you know I’d do the same for you Fran.”
Fran ushered Shamone toward a sink, saying, “Here, wash your face and hands while I go upstairs for clean clothes.” Without another word, Fran hurried out of the kitchens.
Two of Fran’s helpers simply shook their heads at Shamone. Hungry, Shamone stole a small apricot pie that was cooling on a rack and stuffed it into her mouth. Turning she washed her face and hands at the kitchen sink but before she could finish, she heard Sabian’s voice in the corridor outside. Mortified, Shamone ran into a storeroom leaving a trail of crumbs and water on the floor.
Entering the kitchens, Sabian asked, “Where’s Fran?” His tone warned the kitchen staff he was in no mood to be trifled with.
Nervous, a girl lied, “She’s collecting herbs in the garden sir.”
A second kitchen maid kicked her friend because Sabian only had to look out of the window to see she was lying. Hopping around the girl yelped in pain.
Irritated, Sabian asked, “What’s wrong with you girl?”
“Nothing sir, just a touch of cramp in my leg,” the girl fibbed.
Sabian glanced through the large kitchen window. “I thought you said she was in the garden?”
“She is, was, now I come to think about it, she also said she needed to speak to a maid in the dining hall.”
Praying Fran didn’t return holding Shamone’s clothes, the girl said, “We don’t know sir.”
Sabian noticed the trail of water leading into the storeroom. Stepping forward, he reached for the handle.
Panicking, a girl declared, “Oh look, I’ve just seen Fran.”
Moving away from the storeroom, Sabian asked, “Where?”
“Outside, by the herbs,” the girl lied.
Opening the kitchen door, Sabian stepped outside but there was no sign of Fran. Annoyed, he returned to the kitchen. Raising a dark brow he asked, “Have you been drinking?”
Trying not to giggle, the girl replied, “No sir.”
Once again the water and crumbs attracted Sabian’s attention. Curious, he stepped toward the storeroom door. Fran chose that second to enter the kitchens and stuffing Shamone’s clothes into a girl’s hands, she signalled for her to hide them.
Clearing her throat, Fran asked, “Can I help you Sabian?”
Releasing the handle of the storeroom door, Sabian replied, “Yes, I’m looking for Her Highness. Is she here?”
Fran shook her head. “No.”
“Why is there a trail of water leading into this storeroom?”
Thinking quickly, Fran clipped a girl around the head, scolding, “I thought I told you to mop up this mess.”
“Ouch! It’s not my fault. I didn’t spill it,” the girl chided.
Moving Sabian out of the way, Fran grabbed a mop. “I don’t care whose fault it was, next time just clean it.” Showing her annoyance, Fran mopped Sabian out of the kitchen.
Once Sabian had left, Fran grabbed the girl’s hand. “Sorry my dear I did not know what else to do.”
Rubbing the back of her head, the girl pointed to her friend, saying, “Well next time hit her, she makes more mess than I do.”
“No I do not,” her friend protested.
“Now now girls,” Fran cautioned and opening the door to the storeroom, she shook her head at Shamone. “It never fails to amaze me Your Highness how much trouble you can get yourself into and all before mid-day.”
Shamone shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t help it. Trouble follows me wherever I go.”
“Trouble doesn’t follow you around Your Highness, you are trouble,” Fran teased and handing Shamone a set of clean clothes she raised a brow, saying, “Now put these on before Sabian comes back.”
Taking the clean clothes, Shamone changed into them. Dusting herself down, she asked, “Do I look more presentable?”
“For now,” Fran said. “But for how long is anyone’s guess Your Highness.” Winking, Fran chased Shamone out of the kitchen.
Shamone laughed as she ran down a corridor. Unfortunately, Herla, one of Shamone’s tutors was coming in the opposite direction.
Grabbing Shamone by the ear, she marched her toward the library, scolding, “You owe your guests an apology Your Highness. Where have you been all this time?”
Wincing in pain, Shamone grumbled, “Ouch! I was walking in the gardens.”
“In that time Your Highness you could have circled them ten times. So why couldn’t Sabian find you?”
“Maybe we kept missing each other,” Shamone half jested.
Ushering Shamone into the library, Herla scolded, “It’s more likely you were outside the castle grounds. Sabian’s guard reported chasing someone into the forest. Was it you Your Highness?”
Facing the library doors, Shamone replied, “I was in the gardens not the forest.”
From behind her, Shamone heard a familiar voice, saying, “I see you’re still fond of telling tall tales Your Highness.”
Shamone closed her eyes. No, not Stella, please not Stella.
With a wave of her hand, Herla ordered, “Well, are you going to greet your guests or continue to make excuses for your lateness?”
Shamone sighed. Turning, she saw Stella and her sister Bonny sitting in two of the libraries high-backed chairs. Tapping her foot on the wooden floor, Stella declared, “Well, I’m waiting.”
Stella’s attitude always irritated Shamone, being deliberately obtuse, she quipped, “For what, a carriage to take you home? It can be arranged it in a matter of minutes if you wish.”
Angry, Stella insisted, “You know full well what––”
“Why is your face so red Stella, are you hot? I can open a window if you wish,” Shamone teased.
Bonny motioned to greet Shamone but holding a hand up, Stella snapped, “Bonny, sit down and say nothing, I haven’t finished speaking yet.”
Sitting, Bonny replied, “Sorry.”
Rolling her eyes, Shamone walked across to Bonny. Shaking her hand, she explained, “Sorry for not being here to greet you Bonny but I went for a walk in the gardens and I lost track of time.”
Giggling, Bonny replied, “Oh, it’s all right, I’ve been reading. I have to say you have an impressive collection of books in your library.”
“Silence!” Stella yelled with a stomp of her foot.
Bonny fell silent.
Shamone’s eyes narrowed. “Stella, while you are a guest in my home I ask you to treat your sister with a little more respect.”
Stella rose to her feet, a brow arched in challenge. “You’ll find it is I who insist that you treat me with more respect, starting with an overdue apology for being so late.”
Squaring up to Stella, Shamone asked, “Or you’ll do what?” As Stella and Shamone stood nose to nose, Sabian entered the room.
Shamone’s standoffs with Stella were a common occurrence at the castle. Annoyed with Shamone for instigating yet another verbal sparring match, Sabian scolded, “I see it has not taken you long to get reacquainted in battle.”
Without shifting her gaze from Shamone, Stella argued, “Her Highness refuses to apologise for keeping me waiting for over an hour.”
Fixing Stella with a cold stare, Shamone countered, “I’ll apologise to you when you apologise to Bonny.”
Sabian shook his head. “And pray tell, what is Bonny’s part in all this?”
“Nothing,” Bonny declared.
“Then why was your name mentioned?” Sabian asked.
Speaking on Bonny’s behalf, Shamone explained, “I’ll tell you why, as usual Stella is bossing her sister around.”
Keeping Stella and Shamone at arm’s length, Sabian advised, “Then may I suggest you leave the sisters to work out their own differences. How they speak to each other is none of your business. Is that not right Bonny?”
“I–I,” Bonny stuttered while jumping at Sabian’s stern tone.
Shamone rolled her eyes.
“I–I suppose,” Bonny said.
Sabian glared at Shamone. “Now that is settled Your Highness may I suggest as a goodwill gesture you apologise to the sisters for your lateness, it shows ill manners on your part if you do not.”
“But I have apologised,” Shamone protested.
Huffing in disgust, Stella barked, “To my sister but not to me.”
Shamone’s patience snapped. “You don’t deserve an apology. You’re arrogant, bossy and an unsavoury character to boot.”
“Here we go,” Sabian muttered. Holding them apart, he scolded, “Your Highness, just apologise for your lateness.” Shamone struggled with the words as Sabian prompted, “If you wish to resolve this argument I suggest you do as I have requested.”
Relaxing, Shamone conceded, “Okay, Bonny, Stella, I apologise if my lateness caused you any inconvenience. It won’t happen again.”
Stella sneered at Shamone. “Make sure it doesn’t.”
Oh you are so asking for it you weasel faced shrew, Shamone seethed. Glaring at Sabian, Shamone ordered, “Seeing as we are resolving issues, why don’t you make Stella apologise for being so rude to Bonny.”
Raising a dark brow, Sabian reminded, “Have we not just agreed it is a matter between the sisters?”
Smiling, Stella headed out of the library to find her mother. She loved nothing more than tittle-tattling on people for she was jealous of Shamone’s position in life.
“I better see what she’s up to. You know how spiteful she can get.” Hurrying, Bonny ran after Stella.
Circling Shamone, Sabian quizzed, “Did we have a nice stroll outside the castle grounds Your Highness? Second thoughts, do not answer, I know you will only lie and say something like, I was not outside the castle, I was walking in the gardens Sabian. Am I right Your Highness?”
“Well, seeing as you are so good at answering your own questions, I’ll leave you to figure that out for yourself, goodbye Sabian.” Smiling, Shamone left the library and returned to her room. She had plans for a new adventure involving a strange map she had copied from her father’s study earlier that day.
Shaking his head, Sabian strolled down the corridor toward the council chambers. He had important business to arrange involving an ancient artefact that Prince Tylox was eager to get his hands on.
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