Uncalled for Actions (3/?)
Days 15-21 of the sentences experiment. Still going strong.
Ten-year-old Violetta Mondarev prowled around the edges of the central courtyard of Sturmhalten Castle, keeping to the shadows, watching the parade of dignitaries from all over the Empire, and catching snippets of conversation as Tarvek had ordered. She bit back a curse she’d heard some of the older Smoke Knights using when talking about the self-serving, conceited Madboys they worked for and what they thought of their orders.
She shook her head–Tarvek wasn’t really like that, she reminded herself. Sure, they disagreed and he reprimanded her when she mouthed off, but of all their family, only he ever showed an ounce of respect towards her, and that was what ensured her loyalty above the solemn oaths she was forced to take–he was a prat, but he was a reasonable prat.
Violetta scurried up a tree in the corner and hid among its branches to get a better view. Spring had barely arrived, and although buds had begun to sprout, a bitter wind whipped down from the mountains, fluttering her bangs into her eyes. She could easily tell those raised in the lower elevations–they were the ones bundled in furs and multiple wool overcoats, hats with ear-flaps and lined, leather gloves. They were soft compared to the natives of Balan’s Gap and the surrounding mountains, two of which suddenly appeared at the open window next to her perch.
“But I want to go to the meeting,” said a young girl with a stomp of her foot.
Violetta instantly recognized the voice of one of her cousins, Seffie von Blitzengaard, so it didn’t surprise her that Seffie’s idiot brother, Martellus, answered back in his typical condescending tone–talk about a prat.
“Well, you can’t–you have to be at least thirteen to be an apprentice.”
“I’m almost twelve.”
“Still not thirteen,” Martellus answered, tweaking her nose.
Violetta waited until the sounds of her cousins’ footsteps disappeared in the distance before making her way down, but she didn’t get more than a couple branches before strong hands grabbed her cloak, dragging her in through the window with a yelp of surprise. On her feet inside, she spun around to find herself face to face with an annoyed, and therefore, dangerous Martellus von Blitzengaard.
“Well, well, what do we have here? The Littlest Smoke Knight. Don’t you know spying is bad for your health.” He gave Violetta a good shake for emphasis, and Violetta returned it with a quick kick to his shin.
Martellus dropped her to grab his aching leg, but before Violetta could make her escape, his hands twisted in her cloak, lifting her off the floor and holding her against the wall with his freakishly long arms so she couldn’t kick him again. “Listen here, you little brat-”
“Why would I spy on you? Unless you have something to hide, and now, I’m interested.”
Martellus shook her again, knocking her head against the hard stones. “You know, Violetta, one day your mouth is going to get you in trouble.”
Violetta struggled against his iron-clad grip. “Yeah, but not before the two cells you call a brain get you-”
He slammed her into the wall again, knocking the wind out of her. The fight was beyond unfair with Violetta being ten and Martellus being a giant at seventeen, but she was a Smoke Knight and Smoke Knights didn’t fight fair. She reached up to her neck like she was choking, getting a brief concerned look from her cousin, then undid the clasp to her cloak. Dropping softly to her feet, she rolled between his legs before he even knew what was happening then gave him a good kick to the back of his knee, throwing him forward–his face connecting with the stones in a satisfying crunch.
Somersaulting backward, she flipped onto her feet and ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, eyes frantically searching for a way out of the seldom-used part of the castle. Martellus recovered quicker than she’d hoped, and his legs had no trouble catching up to her. She tried to sidestep with a pivot move, but Martellus had twice the Smoke Knight training and anticipated it, his arms catching her around the chest like a vice.
“You’re going to pay for that,” he rasped, breath hot in her ear. “I think it’s time you learned a lesson about the dangers of climbing trees–one wrong step and-” He dragged her to a nearby window, threw it open, and made a whistling sound as he forced her over the sill.
“Idiot,” Violetta hissed, “a fall from this height wouldn’t kill me.”
“It will if you land on your head.” With that, he shoved her farther over–everything but her legs dangling above the five-meter drop.
Violetta calculated the odds of her surviving even as she struggled against the bigger boy, her fingers winding in the sleeves of his coat for support. She could scream and alert the delegates below, but Smoke Knights were drilled to be silent even in death.
“Put her down, Tweedle.”
They both froze at the sound of Tarvek’s voice. He casually strolled down the hall, hands in his pockets as if Violetta wasn’t moments from plummeting to her death.
A terrifying smile crossed Martellus’ face. “As you wish, your Highness.“
And he let go.
Violetta squeaked in shock as she tumbled back, but the expected fall never came. It took her several seconds of deep breathing to assess the situation–the highlight being her head not broken open on the stone steps below. She glanced up at Tarvek–his body pressed against her legs to keep her from falling–then let her head fall back against the wall with a silent sigh of relief.
* * *
Tarvek hauled Violetta back into the castle, made sure the hobnobbing dignitaries were none-the-wiser then slammed the window. “I thought I told you to stay out of sight,” he said, whirling on his cousin. Despite only four years between them, he towered over the smaller girl, but she showed no signs of intimidation with her hands on her hips, scowl set, eyes blazing.
Tarvek took a step out of her personal space–she might be small and young, but she was trained in the various methods to use that to her advantage in the most painful ways imaginable. He cleared his throat. “What happened?”
Violetta relaxed her stance some and straightened her hair. “I was staying out of sight until Tweedle stuck his nose in my business,” she spat before marching past him. “And I don’t need your help.”
“Really?” Tarvek fell into step beside her. “Because you were two seconds away from being the next family tragedy.”
She stopped to pick up her cloak in front of another open window and shook it out. “I can take care of myself.”
“Martellus is dangerous,” he told her, pinching his nose with a sigh.
“You think I don’t know that?” she said, flipping her cloak onto her shoulders and smacking him in the face with it, sending his glasses flying almost as if on purpose.
Tarvek stooped to find the glasses. “Then why do you antagonize him?”
“Because it’s fun,” she answered all too cheerily. “Besides, it’s my job to keep you safe, not the other way around.”
“But you annoying Martellus keeps neither of us safe.” He finally found the glasses and settled them on his nose to glare at Violetta who only shrugged.
“I told you, I can take care of myself–I didn’t need your help.”
Tarvek shook his head in frustration. “Violetta-”
Somewhere in the castle, a horn sounded, catching his attention and saving the Smoke Knight another lecture. He fished his watch from his pocket to check the time–he was late–but when he looked up again, Violetta was nowhere to be seen. He glanced up and down the empty hall then ran to the open window. Nothing. He’d looked away for less than five seconds. So maybe she was better than he thought, but it didn’t really quiet the foreboding building in his gut.
He had no time to worry about Violetta or where she went, though–his father was going to kill him for being late to the opening ceremony. He took off at a run despite all his lessons of proper decorum for a prince then darted around a corner into what looked like a dead end displaying an old set of armor. Pressing a code into the bricks behind the display, a door opened in the wall just wide enough for Tarvek to squeeze through into the darkness.
* * *
Gil followed their guide through the twists and turns of Sturmhalten Castle, filing the route away for future use. The room they finally entered appeared to be a grand ballroom with high ceilings, polished marble floors, and walls covered in rich tapestries illustrating the history of the Storm King. A dozen gas-lit chandeliers covered in shimmery crystals bounced light all around the room giving it a more festive feel than Gil thought appropriate for a political summit. The room was empty save for long tables lining the walls and several men standing at the head table.
The Baron marched right to the men and gave a curt nod to the stout man in the middle. “Aaronev, it is good to see you again.”
“Klaus, you’re looking well. I hope the trip was uneventful.”
Gil’s eyes flicked between the two as they continued their pleasant but obviously forced small-talk. He wondered if anyone liked his father considering all the barely contained hostility they’d encountered on their tour of the Empire.
“And this is the new apprentice I’ve heard so much about?”
Gil snapped to attention and bowed low. “Gilgamesh Holzfäller–it’s an honor to meet you, Your Highness,” he said in the measured tone he’d practiced for hours.
“And so polite. Wherever did you find him?”
“Yes, he shows great promise.”
Gil could almost swear there was a trace of pride in the Baron’s words, but then it was gone as he described finding Gil in a barn, orphaned in another Spark breakthrough gone awry that got the typical sympathetic condolences from the Prince. Gil hated this ruse–he was tired of pretending to be nobody, but more so, he was tired of being denied by his own father. He crushed the bitterness down, responding with all the correct phrases until a horn sounded, startling him and signaling the beginning of a procession of dignitaries from across the Pax Transylvania.
Gil managed to survive the hour-long receiving line saying all the right things and bowing to all the right dignitaries, and all without losing any buttons from his clothing. As they took their seats behind the head table, a young girl about Gil’s age slipped through the main door and made a b-line directly towards them.
She had long red hair, pulled into a swirling tail that hung over one shoulder and wore a startling blue dress. She curtsied respectfully as she approached.
“I’m here, father,” she whispered.
The Prince nodded at the seat next to him where she sat, gathering ink and papers in front of her–all with an effortless smile.
Her father leaned close, features drawn tight. “Where is your brother?”
“I’m not sure, Father. No one has seen him since this morning.”
“A problem, Aaronev?” the Baron asked?
The Prince glowered but recovered easily. “Of course not–this is my daughter, Anevka, she’ll be filling in for my son this afternoon.”
Gil smiled at the princess then felt his entire face flush in embarrassment before turning away. When he chanced another look, Anevka was grinning at him.
She looked so much like Tarvek it unsettled Gil more than a little so he focused on his own papers and pretended to be busy paying attention to the meeting that quickly got underway once everyone settled.
* * *
Three hours later, Gil could no longer feign interest in the proceedings and took to doodling in the corner of his paper much to his father’s dismay by the look on his face when he stood to make his speech.
Gil could only muster the good apprentice act for another twenty minutes after that before a caricature of the Baron joined the doodles in the corners getting a tinkling laugh from Anevka. Gil blushed again and tried to look more studious and less like a dumb fourteen-year-old–he rather figured he failed spectacularly by her continued giggles.
Anevka surprised him then by sliding a slip of paper across the empty seat the Baron had abandoned. Gil carefully opened it and barely contained the laugh at the much less flattering likeness of his father she’d drawn.