Doris was as tired as tired could be.
Lying in the bed of the carriage she was draped in various blankets and skins. Her mother’s arm draped around her felt like the most comforting trap if ever there was one. For the day had been cold especially in the morning when the icy wind struck her face. They were moving, and she had been sad. Crying for hours, even days before they left, she could not bear to leave it.
But Mother had talked to her about the situation, that she feared for their health, for animals across the kingdom were dying. Growing sick and falling over people were panicking, and the growing deaths had made themselves most present in the outskirts of the Kingdom. Mother had been talking to her friend Eileen for hours about the situation one night when Doris was attempting to sleep in the room above. They had talked of the animals and how they feared the sickness would reach them as well. There had been no signs any of the people had grown sick, but she was terrified none the less.
Then she had spoken of her fear for Doris. Her seeing the dreadful Messenger who had turned out to be Heath, bastard son of Thoric, had made things incredibly difficult. Mother had spoken of how Doris would scream in the middle of the night about the incident, for hours on end. And how certain spots Doris would not go near, no matter what Mother said. It was darkness that terrified her, and Mother had been finding darkness to be in all the places where work had to be done. Mother was not getting younger and her back was hurting more these days.
Doris had been angry that morning. Had refused breakfast and refused Mother’s touch. That was until Mother spoke to her on her level. Lowering down to her one good knee she spoke softly. Describing the situation in the best way she could. Promising to come back once the sickness had faded. Promised to visit her pond and play with her there every Saturday.
So, Doris was now here in the back of carriage. Her heart clung to home so her mind caressed it softly in remembrance of the promise. She would return home one day, and she would live there for the rest of her life. And maybe, just maybe, father might return.
A large bump knocked Mother awake. She groaned holding her head, then looked to Doris and said…
“You alright my dear?”
“What are you doing so awake?”
That had made Mother shut her lips, as it usually did. For most of the time it was Doris’ best escape when she wanted to be quiet. She knew it made Mother sad, gave her guilt. She didn’t want to hurt her, but most times now she did not wish to speak. She looked down at the many blankets covering them, and the boxes of things surrounding them.
They had not taken much, but what they had taken was heavy.
She didn’t know where their new home was, only that it was in Wandhum City. They would stay either with her Aunt and Uncle or near them, and it would only be for a short while as promised. Mother had told her she would love the city for there was always something interesting going on. Someone new to talk to or something grand to experience. Yet it was also dangerous, and more dangerous than the thick of the wood. For no one could be trusted, and Doris was to know that and stay close to Mother at all times for that very reason.
The carriage came to a slow stop and there was talking behind them. They were out in a large field caked in layers of snow. There was nothing out there. The only thing visible were the mountains far far away and the tree line which seemed far away as well. She didn’t understand who the driver would be talking to.
Doris looked to mother concerned.
But her mother was smiling. She lowered down to her ear and whispered with giddy excitement.
“We’re here my darling.” Then she rose back up to see Doris’ mouth drop. She then leaned around to look, and as her head peeked around the corner of the carriage she saw a tall man. The man slender yet strong looking wearing green clothing under silver armor. He carried a large spear and talked with a big smile to the old bald driver. He then looked over and saw her.
She gasped and ducked her head inside.
“What is it?” Mother asked.
Then they both heard laughter.
The carriage started moving and they went past the same guard. He waved to Doris as they closed into a large space of darkness, then the gate began to slowly shut as they went deeper and deeper. Doris felt fear gripping her tightly. Why was it so dark? Mother said nothing of it being so dark!
Then it cleared out, she saw the tunnel as it grew further away, and immediately she was brought into the hustle and bustle of people and animals and kids. They all rushed around talking and dancing and laughing and eating and drinking. It was all she could do to keep herself sitting straight with the dizzy feeling attacking her skull. The buildings were tall around them and leaned towards each other like giant’s fingers. The road beneath was bumpy and hard as they traveled deeper. Then there were large and long clothes hanging from wires above them. Magnificent colors she saw red and green and blue. All different kinds of shades she saw them and marveled at their interesting markings and pictures. Down on the sides of the roads she saw the different people selling and cooking and bargaining. It was a living creature this place was. Moving all about at a constant pace of quickness, she couldn’t believe how she’d be able to even walk in this place.
Then she saw more guards. Two men standing side by side were speaking to a woman with her clothes torn almost completely off her body. Her olive skin shimmering in the morning light. She sobbed deeply as they spoke, but Doris notice the guards were not caring of that. They were being mean and rough with her. Talking down to the poor woman.
I hope they don’t do that to me, was all she could help to think.
Then there was a burst of flame and she screamed falling back. A man with a white face stretched to a beak, his dark eyes sinking in was standing on a ball. His hand holding a torch his other held a bottle. He would hold the torch above his mouth and drip the bottles juice overhead and inside. Then spew fiery liquid like a dragon.
Doris was shocked.
“I told you my dear, you’ll never be bored in a place like this.” Mother said smiling, she then wrapped her up in her arms. Doris watched the man as he looked to them both and blew a kiss from his hand. Then the thickness of the crowd blocked their vision and Doris felt better.
“GRAND JOUST! GRAND JOUST! COME ONE COME ALL TO THE GRAND JOUST IN TWO MONTHS TIME! BEING YOUR COUSIN BRING YOUR MOTHER GO AHEAD AND BRING YOUR BROTHER! IT’S THE GRAND JOUST PROMISED TO YOU BY THE GREAT AND NOBLE KING JULIAS MARREN!” A short haired blonde man screamed from a balcony. His lengthy frame stretching out to the people below under and dark green and brown jacket.
Doris then felt her jaw drop as she witnessed those beside him. Men in large silver armor, some wearing thick and terrifying helmets while other let long wafting hair and stunning clean face shine in the light. They stood tall and broad with their swords beside them, so sharp they could kill even the thickest muscled oxe with the lightest of swings. She was shocked to see them, shocked to witness the truth the pictures and tales tried desperately to match. They could not, for these were the great and noble knights.
“GRAND JOUST MY LORD! GRAND JOUST MY LADY! COME AND SEE THESE FINE GENTS IN THE GRAND JOUST YOU’LL BE SORRY TO MISS IT!” He yelled down at the people below him.
Doris heard him, and her brow raised slightly.
“Mother, what is a Grand Joust?” She asked her head tilting backward.
Mother stopped digging through her bags for a snack and gave that “um” she always gave when she was figuring to tell the truth or not. “Well my dear, it is a sport.”
“A sport?” Doris turned facing her, completely interested. Her eyes wider as if they could help to drink up the information.
“Yes, men… well knights. Compete against each other for honor and glory and to show courage. They… they ride horses…” She taught best she could, trying to hide something but unsure how.
“Horses?” Doris couldn’t understand. These were men her father had worked alongside. Her mother had spoken of them as great warriors that protected the land and her people. But if all they did was ride horses, then how…
“Yes, my dear. But they ride at each other. Carrying these big sticks, they try to knock each other down and whoever wins is honored.” There was a short silence.
“They try… to knock each other down… with big… sticks?” Doris wasn’t understanding the picture.
“Yes, my dear, I have the same reaction at times. But it is great fun you would enjoy it.” She started to return to her snack searching.
“Do they get hurt?” Doris needed to get to the bottom of this.
“Yes, some even die at ti…” Realizing her mistake she stops.
“Die?” Mother shakes her head cursing herself.
“Yes, my dear. It can be a very dangerous sport at times. Just like any other. But it is what they do for themselves and their people. It’s an honorable thing to compete in.” Mother tried to smooth it off.
“I don’t know if I want to see that mother, I don’t want to see anyone get hurt.” Doris said turning around and laying back against her mother’s belly.
“I know my dear, I know.” Mother caressed her hair lightly as she always did. And the reaction it always had slowly came over the small girl as she gently went into a deep sleep. Her dreams filled with curiosity of the Knights and the yelling man, the fire breather, and then the guards. She felt herself in this new place as they moved deeper inside. And for some reason she imagined them moving into the belly of a large dragon. Her dreams describing the hot magma beneath that heated the blind city, and her dream turned fierce as she found no way to escape.
The next she woke, she had a new feeling about this place.
And all she could think about was returning home.