Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Erin Dockery
A King Gets Murdered Over a Sandwich, and What Happens After
A King Gets Murdered Over a Sandwich, and What Happens After
The deep, dead vastness of night.
Shadows slipped near-silently over stone, the hooded figures they belonged to already accustomed to the thick, dark quiet. One stood beside a soon-to-be-dead king's bed.
"Honestly," he said, disgusted. "You're the literal king, my guy. You even left your goddamn windows open."
"Wha—huh?" The aforementioned king sat up. Or didn't, as there was a sharp, gleaming knife in the way. "Whuzz goin' on?"
The knife pressed ever closer. The king blearily opened his eyes, turning to the hooded person beside him.
"Hey, uh, man, could you get me a sandwich real quick?"
"A sandwich. Bread toasted, please?"
"This is why the people hate you."
"The people hate me?"
"Good grief. Yes, the people hate you. That's why I've got this knife here."
"Wait… is this an assassination attempt?"
"You didn't realize?! What'd you peg me for, the royal sandwich maker?!"
"…yes? I'm still waiting on that sandwich I asked for, you know. With the bread toasted. They always seem to forget that bit."
"You know what? I'm done. We've got an extremely stupid king and absolutely no food. Like, really, dude. You should of seen this coming."
"It's should have, actually—"
He was interrupted by a piercing, squelching noise, his last words echoing in the cold, still air. A similar noise occurred moments later down the hall.
Whispers and cheers of It is done filtered through the great stone spires, the old walls seeming to creak and sigh.
But with disappointment or relief, one will never know.
Oh, wait, a child. How'd they miss that?
Years pass. The child learns the layout of the castle, where the food is, that the mice are stealing it and there are sharp knives in the kitchen and cut them, cut them until they stop moving, throw them by their wiggling tails outside.
She learns the shapes of letters and words from the books in the vast library, but the sounds are lost to her by lack of a teacher, and even the old castle can do little more than sigh and provide comfort in the knowledge that it would stand firm amidst crashing storms and howling winds, even though neither of them has been seen or felt in a while.
And once she has learned the meanings of words, the gathering and acquisition of knowledge eases, lightens, grows with the oceans of books sitting on dusty, weary shelves. She learns shapes and numbers and facts and history that will likely have no effect on her current life, but she learns them nonetheless.
Did you know? she chatters, soundlessly, to no one in particular. That a right angle is 90 degrees, that the third door on the left of the east wing was a larder once, that owls have soft, silent feathers, that slapping someone with a glove initiates a sword fight, that people get married when they grow up, that—
That the place feels so empty, she thinks, even though it has always been empty, will always be empty, and the walls sigh in agreement.
Empty excepting herself, of course. She'd somehow survived a decade within, and so she'd live for decades more, supposing the mice stopped eating absolutely everything that was fit to be eaten. She'd killed hundreds of them already.
Nearly everything of value in the castle had been taken by whoever left the dead, rotting bodies in the two rooms at the end of the hall and their bleeding heads between slices of bread in the kitchen with a scrawled note that read Here are your sandwiches, O Majestic King. There was a word in there that she didn't know, but she supposes it doesn't matter, anyway.
The once-full treasuries and granaries had all been raided ages ago, but the library remained untouched. The knowledge stored in books wouldn't improve your life like food and wealth would, not directly, at least.
But knowledge of carpentry and gardens and plants had opened her to the possibility of a garden on the rooftop, knowledge of traps and hunting and mice allow her to protect it, and she gets a great view from on top of the castle, looking down at forests and hills and rivers and—houses?
With people living in them, she thinks, gazing down at the tiny figures milling about. Actual, other people that she could go and meet and be with.
Too bad none of the books in the library mention how the dastardly drawbridge works.
There is talk in the town.
Talk of a face in the window, a figure on the roof, a girl living within the old, aging, empty castle. They are dismissed as gossip and wild rumor, but the tale settles into an urban legend, akin to the sayings about the bloodthirsty wolves in the forest.
Several children plot and discuss what they would do if they went and knocked on the great wooden door, but it is a game, a harmless thing to keep their minds occupied and entertained for a while.
That's what their parents think, at least.
Time and time again she has thought about leaving. Venturing outside, bare feet on soft grass, the sights and wonders of the world. But without the drawbridge working, without her knowing how it works, she is stuck within the stone walls of her home.
Swimming across the moat would surely mean death. She would sink, floundering in the dark water, until she lay lifelessly at the bottom.
If the moat even had a bottom.
She could build a bridge, a boat, some sort of gliding thing to fly above the sparkling ring of water that sat around the castle. But her time is severely lacking, she has other, more pressing things to do, and, truth be told, she is afraid of what she might find outside the walls. Although they keep her inside, she can recount nights when she watched torrents of rain pour down from her window, and was thankful and relieved that she didn't have to be out there, freezing and shivering and soaked amidst the sheets of rain.
But only a little, of course. She is only a little afraid, she will cross the moat someday.
Somehow, she is still unconvinced.
Just as she is kept in by the moat, the children are kept out. They whisper to each other in the dark as they dazzle themselves with visions of a face in the window, a figure on the roof.
"What're we gonna do now—"
"Throw a rock at it—"
"Do you want to get killed—"
"It's not like there could actually be someone living in that old muckabout," one says, drowning out the rest of their whispers with false bravado. "And we can just swim over. Your shirt needs a washing anyway, Jimothy."
"Just call me Jim," Jimothy mutters, sullenly. "And my shirt isn't dirty, Katrina."
One by one, they cross over the deep, dark barrier, moonlight reflecting off of the waters.
"You're going to knock, Jimothy," Katrina says, to sighs of relief from the others.
"Your shirt's dirty."
"Call me Jim first."
"Fine, Jim. Go ahead."
Three heavy knocks sound on the old wooden gate, the sound spreading farther than it should, reaching outwards and upwards through doors and walls and—
—and the stone towers on either side of the castle, shaking her awake.
What on earth could possibly—
Voices in the quiet, velvet darkness, on her side of the moat.
How could that happen? she wonders as she lights a candle, starting the way down to that dastardly drawbridge.
"A face in the window," Jimothy whispers, marveling. "With a candle."
"You mean it's real?"
They're talking about her, she realizes, but she doesn't know what they're saying. She wants to ask them questions, so many questions, but if she can't talk then she can't even do anything—but she opens the window anyway.
"Why isn't she saying anything?"
"Can she say anything?"
Well, they think, it is reasonable that a girl cooped up all alone wouldn't be able to talk. They make writing motions with their hands, questioning, and she thinks for a moment and leaves with the candle, leaving them all to fear in the dark until she comes back with parchment and pen.
What to ask? she thinks. What to say? Better to let them write first, then, and they descend upon the parchment, eager, shoving it back into her waiting hands minutes later.
How are you alive? they ask. How long have you been living here? What do you do all day? Why haven't you gone out?
But, most puzzling: What is your name?
She answers every question but the last—a garden, all her life, read and think and work, the dastardly drawbridge, and sits to ponder the last question while they read her answers.
"She doesn't have a name, either," Katrina murmurs, and they suppose that no, how could you possibly need a name when you are the only one in this empty castle?
"We could give her one," Jimothy says, and they nod in agreement.
"And we could get her out of here, too."
The sky is lightening, she is thinking, idly, when suddenly parchment is shoved into her hands again.
Come back with us, it says. To our village. You can climb out the window and we'll carry you across the moat and also do you think Elowyn is a good name, it means elm tree?
The children swim back across, another member added to their group. They carry her when she flounders and help her up onto shore.
The great walls sigh as she leaves them behind with the feeling of resting after a long, long day.
"Elowyn," they say, and she knows what they mean.
"Elowyn," she says, and she steps into the sunrise.