The Tyrant’s Castle was a foreboding sight, even to those of Davenier who saw the impressive structure rising above them day and night. The stones, once carved from the strongest limestone cliffs, were weathered to a faded grey. No one still living knew what the stronghold had looked like when first built, but they could guess. It had been made with intimidation in mind. Blood red flags fluttered from the tips of twisted spires that pointed perilously into the sky. The town arced about the estate, looking like a crown above a stormy face. Gaping windows high upon the walls pockmarked the castle’s surface, showing the outside world nothing but the shadows and darkness within.
Kendrik, however, was not scouring the bricks for a glimpse of what life as a royal might be like. He wasn’t interested. His eyes searched for something more elusive than fine clothes with pockets weighed down by coins and jewels. He searched for something of skin and bone and blood. By chance, there were times when he could catch sight of the little hazel head that sometimes gazed longingly at the world outside while she passed.
Just the brief possibility of seeing her decided the fate of his day. Should her face not appear, he would remain unsettled and temperamental throughout the day. Likewise, should he manage to see even a stray tangle of her hair, he walked with the air of a man who has everything he could ever want in one life.
Straining his eyes against the sun’s bright glare, the boy stared balefully up at one of the high windows she frequented. The girl had yet to appear, and his time had run out. His heart felt heavy as he trudged back towards the workshop he shared with his father. Kendrik knew he was probably in for a lecture. Already, half the day had been wasted gawking at the castle, idling about when he should have been hard at work.
Kendrik hustled his way through the busy streets, elbowing past the masses. Various traders yelled offers to him in thunderous voices while little children scurried about his feet like stray dogs. A few of them had dirt smudged over their chubby cheeks, a sort of war paint that blurred their features. It had been many years since Kendrik had been young enough to roam the streets with vagabonds like them. Children below ten normally had parents that wouldn’t mind their avid exploration of a town that held little wonders to the adult mind. The streets were stained with more than clay, the smells that reached out to take a fellow by the throat as he passed certain shops were nothing new to the experienced nose, and the trinkets little boys found in the streets no longer became marvelous keepsakes when one was as old as Kendrik. Novelties like games of make believe and the traditional bedtime stories were all but familiar to him now.
He wasn’t far from his twentieth year, though it still seemed ages away. With that age came responsibility, as his father so often reminded him. Kendrik clenched his jaw and kept moving.
There were times when he missed his childhood and returned to it in his mind, where it waited for him with open arms. It was bittersweet. Memories of that sort always were. But then the old pain would return, and he would hastily retreat from the images. His mother was dead, dwelling for nine years beneath the ground like the dwarves of the mountains. Such thoughts would cause nothing but mourning. Besides, his life was not so bad. A smile came to the boy’s face as he turned the corner and came within sight of the one place where he could clear his mind, the place where he had purpose.
The woodshop in which Kendrik worked was neat and pleasant. Sawdust littered the floor in a film as fine as fairy dust, and the whole place smelled wonderfully of freshly cut wood. Upon each shelf lay some knick-knack or carving that Kendrik had diligently sculpted. His father handled the larger items, like furniture for the poor families of Davenier or life-size animal caricatures which were ordered by the King himself.
Though small, Kendrik’s craft was superior to anyone his age. With a surprisingly tender touch for so callused and hard-worked fingers, Kendrick carefully sketched every detail in with his blade. Onlookers praised his skill as unparalleled by any carpenter other than his father, Daniel.
As he looked across the street to his father’s work area, Kendrik smiled with admiration. There was not a man alive like his father. They had been through much since his mother’s passing, yet Daniel had never altered. Despite the hardships he had faced, he still remained as strong as the very foundations of the Tyrant’s castle.
Kendrick looked upon his father’s figure with pride-filled eyes. He was the picture of both acceptance and good nature. His long auburn hair was held back from a sweaty brow by a length of leather cloth. Kendrik took in the common trappings draped over the broad shoulders. He was simple, but he was an honest and fair man. That was more than he could say for most people in Davenier. But what Kendrik cherished most was his father’s face, always split wide with a grin of some sorts. His mood was never deeply ill, even when one might deserve any measure of reprimand. When an action warranted punishment, it was given. When someone had earned praise, he was offered that respect. That was how Daniel lived his life, and how he hoped his son would, too.
The chatter of the townspeople passing by filled the little woodcutting stall. A few random people trickled in and out of the shop, some buying while others just browsed. Kendrik didn’t pay much attention. His mind was still focusing on what he had not seen during his visit to the castle. Disappointment filled his soul like black water, rising higher and higher. He cursed himself for never having the courage to approach her when he glimpsed her in town, away from her master’s hand inside the castle walls. Just the thought of being close enough to touch her made his palms begin to sweat. His mood turned foul as such thoughts raced through his brain. Most of his curious customers scurried away hurriedly at the dark scowls he shot their way.
Lost in his frustration, he did not notice the daydreaming figure that trailed from one shelf to the next. Her thick hair hung loose, hiding her face from him as she stroked each item admiringly. Her dirty clothing and bare feet made her look like nothing more than a street urchin. She could have been anyone. When her presence did catch his eye, though, it was hard to pull his gaze from her. Something felt so familiar about the way she held herself, how she dragged her feet slowly from one shelf to the next. He handed a customer their purchase and watched the girl with silent curiosity.
Kendrik moved closer without knowing he was doing so. An urge swept over him to see her face, to know who she was. He felt like a boy ten years younger, all giddy and nervous for no apparent reason. His feet led him through the shelves, closer and closer. Within seconds, he was at her side, no more than a foot away, and she turned to face him.
He froze immediately. It was the girl from the castle. He planted his feet firmly beneath him; this was his chance. Her slender face tilted up to see him clearer, and he stumbled back a step as he suddenly caught sight of the girl’s deep purple eyes. For so long, he had only witnessed her existence from a distance, never getting close enough to be within reach of her. He’d never seen such rare beauty.
“Hello,” Kendrik managed to stutter out. He noticed that he was still gaping as wide as a fish who was gasping for air. Quickly, his mouth snapped shut with the hope she hadn’t noticed. Unlike him, she didn’t have the luxury of knowing who she spoke with. He scolded himself. This had to be just right.
But she was not looking at him anymore. Rather, her attention was arrested by a small carving of one of the seldom seen Blue-Tip birds in the forest. Kendrik had spent many painstaking hours attempting to get every stroke right. The paints had been freshly ground from herbs in the fields near the city walls. Intricate strokes showed every individual feather of the black wings, right down to the blue stained tips that gave the creature its namesake. The item was one of the few Kendrik was most proud of, and he couldn’t restrain the grin that sprang unbidden to his face as he watched the girl handle it.
After a few silent moments, she met his eyes. “This is beautiful. How do you get the details so perfect? I can’t even imagine the patience it must take to create something like this.” Her voice was soft and demure, just as he had always imagined it would be.
Though her words were spoken confidently, a small blush crept across her cheeks. Kendrik watched in amusement as the girl swept a strand of hair behind her ear. She seemed nervous around him, a fact he couldn’t quite wrap his thoughts around. But they were speaking! It was something he had wished for since his first sighting of the girl. In all his years, he had never thought of himself as the love-unrequited sort, but she had changed that in a single moment. He took in a deep breath. Polite and to the point, advice his father always stood by.
“That’s kind of you. It’s just a simple carving I made while sitting by my fire, but I am glad you like it.” After a slight pause, he held out his hand. “May I ask your name, miss?” Anxiety ran through his veins like lightning. So many times he had yearned to know it, even if just to whisper it silently in his own mind.
With no sign of reluctance, she reached forward to shake his hand. Her grip surprised him. “My name is Eleri. I work as a servant in the castle. What might I call you?”
Kendrik’s tongue stumbled woodenly in his haste to answer her. What was this? He was never as clumsy around girls as he was at that moment. “I am Kendrik, son of Daniel, the wood-worker.” Silence stretched between them, through which they just stared at one another. He was still holding her hand. Then Eleri looked back to the crimson flags flapping above the castle. He recognized that glance. People always had it just before saying something they wished they didn’t have to.
“I should return to the castle. My pleasure time is nearly spent.” She turned to go, but Kendrik hastily laid a hand on her shoulder. He withdrew it immediately, amazed at his forwardness.
“Wait! Your praise meant a great deal to me. I would like to give you this as a gift, a thank you of sorts.” Before she could refuse, he took her hand and placed the little Blue-Tip carving into it.
Eleri’s eyes shone brightly with excitement and surprise. “I’m quite sure I cannot accept this.” Her tone betrayed the longing she had for the ornament. Kendrik pressed her hand gently. It didn’t hurt to give it away, especially not to her.
“It is yours. I am wondering one thing, though. May I see you again? I would hate to think of this as our first and last meeting.” He tried to hide the eagerness in his voice. This sort of thing wasn’t exactly a strong point for him. He had very little experience with anything other than chisel and hammer.
A sudden shyness seemed to steal over her at the short request. She nodded her head fractionally. “Of course, you may. I would very much enjoy that. Goodbye, Kendrik.” Before he could react, she rushed away, her skirts flicking out behind her.
Kendrik breathed a deep sigh of contentment. “Goodbye…Eleri.”