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no telling how far I'll go; Mallos
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They had found her a place to sleep with the other stranded petitioners on the Castle's lowest levels. She'd been asked to hand over her dagger, but had been given promises that it would be returned as soon as she was ready to leave. The guard led her along the winding corridors and down multiple flights of steps until they reached a cosy little passageway. It wasn't as grand as some of the others she'd walked down on the way, but it was clean, tidy and somewhat homely. The walls were plastered and painted in a warm off-cream; but there were no tapestries. Someone had taken the trouble to hang up some pictures. Elina paused to peer at them; a hare, a falcon, a raven and a green dog. Interesting choices, but to each their own.
"You're just in here, miss," the guard said. She turned to him with a smile, glancing through the door he was pointing at.
"Thank you," Elina replied, noticing a vacant bunk bed with a roll of clean blankets set invitingly on top.
"Breakfast is at eight," the guard explained, "the others will probably show you the way, but you just go up the flight of steps we just came past, take a right, then a left, and you're back at the great hall." Elina grinned.
"I hope I'll remember that after a good night's sleep." The guard chuckled obligingly, his eyes taking a casual stroll down her body.
"Goodnight then, miss."
"Goodnight."

Leaving him to return to his duties, Elina poked her head around the door to the room. It was unoccupied, but the scattering of possessions across the single desk and bookcase suggested that at least two other women were currently in residence. There were three bunks; the top of all three were empty, but the bottom of two had been neatly made-up. The third, which Elina assumed was hers, was the one standing nearest the door. It was probably the one most acutely exposed to draft. She set about unfurling the blankets. One felt significantly less itchy than the others so she put that one on the bottom. It looked pretty cosy when she was done and she sat down cross-legged on top of it and peered around the room again. Elina felt a pang of jealousy. There was a photograph standing on the bedside table of the nearest bunk, and a smiling man and pudgy baby stared out at her. Next to it was a hairbrush, some kind of coloured leather bag and a well-thumbed book. The table next to the remaining bunk was similarly adorned with personal clutter. Elina glanced at empty space beside her and sighed. Not for the first time she felt the hot prickle of tears behind her eyes. All she had in the world was the dagger they had taken at the door, and the dress she was standing in; and both of those had been stolen. Elina decided she didn't really want to meet her roommates after all. She would sleep instead. Stripping off her dress and removing her corset, she slipped beneath the blankets and lay on her back staring at the ceiling. Whatever had robbed her of her memories had left her with a feeling of desolate emptiness, at its worst when she was alone. She hoped, prayed to whatever God it was she believed in that tomorrow the King would see her, and she'd be one step closer to filling the hole inside her. A few more days and she'd feel like throwing herself into it.

---

It proved to be a long night. Elina woke up frequently; once when her roommates, apparently slightly tipsy, returned in the early hours, but numerous times afterwards. Her mind buzzed in turn with feelings of excitement, despair, hopelessness and resentment. Her thoughts wouldn't rest long enough to grant her the peace she needed. In the morning when her companions woke up, Elina kept her back to them and her blankets pulled up, pretending to be asleep. Mercifully, they left her in peace and went up for breakfast without her. When they had gone, Elina dressed and borrowed the hairbrush off the neighbouring bedside table. She sat for a while, staring out through the windows at the ocean beyond the gardens and then stood, dusted off her dress and headed for the stairs. At the top she took a left, then a right, and wandered up to the office to the right of the main hall.
"Hello," she smiled at the guard inside, "did I beat the crowds today?" The guard grinned back and nodded.
"You did that, Lass."
"And the king is seeing petitioners today?" Elina pressed hopefully.
"As far as I know."

She was shown into the main hall just after ten o clock. It was an amazing room; the kind of place that forced you to look up whether you wanted to or not. The ceiling was vaulted with dark shining wood, the walls bedecked with flags, banners and tapestries. The king was sitting on his throne at the far end of the hall behind a table, raised on a dais, and beside him a teenage boy lounged in a smaller chair on the left hand side. Two of the pictures in the downstairs corridor finally made sense; a small falcon perched on the back of the king's seat and a huge green dog slept soundly at the foot of the dais. When she reached the dais, Elina paused, curtsied and waited, her hands clasped. The king consulted a roll of parchment.
"I understand you would like to borrow a ship," he said eventually, setting the scroll down on the tabletop, "may I ask why?" He didn't have a warm voice, but somehow still sounded kind. Elina took a deep breath and unfastened her wolf necklace. She reached up and put it down on the table.
"I found myself washed up at The Peaks seven days ago, your grace," she began, "this," she nodded at the pendant, "and this," she pulled the piece of parchment from the pocket of her dress and set it down beside the wolf, "were all I had. I can't remember anything. I don't know how I got there, what these things are, or even what my name is. But I met someone who said that the pendant was worn by followers of a God called Rhaegar? And that he lives on this world aboard a ship." She sighed and looked up at the king imploringly, "I wanted to borrow a ship from you so I might find him and ask him to help me."

The boy had sat up and was peering at her curiously. His green eyes looked between her, the pendent and the scrap of paper with the brightness his father was lacking. He smiled at her when he caught her looking, a smile that was used to being smiled back at. She obliged him as the king gestured to one of the nearby guards.
"Can you go and find Mallos, please?" he asked in a low voice, "and ask him to come down? Tell him I need his help solving a mystery." The guard nodded and disappeared through a side door. Elina had no idea who Mallos was. Maybe he was in charge of the ships?
"I think we may be able to do one better than a ship," the king explained with a more reassuring smile of his own, "we will see if my friend can help you and afterwards, if you still wish to go and see Rhaegar, I am sure Mallos will be able to take you by a...a more direct root." Feeling distinctly bewildered and at a loss for what else to do, Elina curtsied again.
"Thank you, your Grace."


photo by Ben Fredericson at flickr.com



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