Taking money or goods back to The Fringes was always nothing short of a hazard. The road back from The Market was always lined with thieves, some of whom would skip right to violence to get what they wanted.
I knelt down to check the spokes on my wagon wheel just before I reached the crumbling wall that separated The Fringes from The Market and the rest of the queendom of Reville. The last thing I wanted was a breakdown before I got back to my little home. I’d be an open target. Checking the whole wagon over, I found it to be in perfect working order, though it looked as if it were going to fall to pieces any second. That was just one of the perks of being an artisan, I had the skills to build and paint my cart so that it looked ancient and not worth robbing. The paint was peeling, the wheels had missing spokes. The covering looked threadbare. Little did anybody know, that my flawless little stand in the market, converted into this wagon.
I got in front where a mule should have been and pulled, dreading the long trek back home. The first pull was always the hardest, taking all the power I possessed to get going. Afterwards, it was all matter of keeping the momentum. The guard at the gate simply watched me—didn’t even attempt to offer me help. He merely stood there, in his tight dandy yellow guard’s suit with white trim.
It was like my body refused to cooperate. I tripped on the way to the front if the wagon and I barely could muster up enough strength to lift it. Market was especially tiring today.
“Excuse me, sir…” I said, breathing hard from the effort of getting the wagon going. “Would you help me?”
I saw something flicker across his face and play in the corners if his mouth. “That’s not in the job description, but I will need to see your ID to make sure you’re authorized to leave here—or to even be here at all.”
I fished around for my ID, which I had conveniently stuffed in my pocket earlier. I pulled it out, conscious if it’s deplorable condition. She handed it to him.
The guard looked it over, holding the very tip of the paper with just his pointer and thumb. His lips curled up in disgust and he flung it in the air, letting the breeze snatch it away.
“I suppose I’ll let you pass.” he said, stepping aside. The sneer never left his face. The guard opened the gate, taking care to do so as slowly as he could.
As quickly as I could manage, I got into position and pulled with what strength I had left. Stepping past those towering wrought-iron gates was like stepping off from under a weight. Even though I pulled my entire store behind me, I felt lighter. I could see The Fringes spread in front of me; it’s barren brown landscape was strangely inviting. The sunset’s rosy glow seemed to soften the stark bleakness and almost made it look like a pleasant place to be.
The last of the light was fading fast, and night provided a cloak for not only thieves but animals. I picked up the pace a little, annoyed that the guard had held me up. I knew if I kept that speed, I could get hone in about twenty minutes or so.
Still, I could not outrun the night, which seemed to descend upon all at once—and with it, came an extreme fatigue. My feet became like stones, heavy and unwieldy.
Something skittered across my path and my mind signaled my feet to stop, but they kept going. Finally catching up to my brain, they tried to stop but the weight of the wagon kept it going at the same speed. It knocked into me, throwing me forward and sending me flying face first into the dirt and winding me. Coughing and spluttering, I managed to push myself onto my hands and knees. I scrambled to my feet and looked around me. Somehow, the last traces of day had faded away and night had fallen without my notice. I stood up, my head was pounding as was my heart. I stumbled back to my wagon and found it’s covering slashed. I did not even have to look inside. I took my place at the front and pulled, all too aware of how light it was now.
I reached home, which was nothing more than a few old wooden boards knocked together with newspaper stuffed in the open areas. Suddenly, I was aware of the vulnerability of this pile of wood and paper that I called home. A deep fear rose within me, it’s icy tendrils clawing into my mind. Should the robbers decide to come back, with a little force, knock the door down and enter. I parked my wagon beside my house and stepped inside. Even there, I felt exposed. I stumbled to my little bed, nearly bumping into my worktable. I crawled under the covers, keeping my eye in the door. ‘Any moment now,’ I thought, ‘someone’s going to come in here and—’
The door burst open, falling off it’s hinges. I screamed, reaching for whatever was within my reach. My fingers fell upon and wrapped around a palette knife. Helplessness burbled up from deep inside.
“Wh—what do you want?” I managed to choke out.
The hooded figure at my door began to giggle. “Well, are going to invite me in first, Alyce?”
“Who ARE you? Why do you know my name.”
The figure stepped inside and reached for its hood and pulled it back. Little trails of glowing yellow followed the intruder’s movements. When I saw her face, I dropped to my knees. I saw those eyes, glittering in the dark, twinkling like stars. “Your Majesty…To what do I owe this visit?” I tried to contain the quiver in my voice.
“Turn on some light, Alyce, and then we may talk.”
I got to my feet, feeling unsteady, my mind reeling. I found my kerosene lamp on my worktable and fumbled in the dark for matches. The Queen, noticing my struggle, simply reached for the lamp and it sprang to life. Even in the dim lighting, her face was at once beautiful and childlike. Elaborate blonde curls framed her face.
At first I did not make the connection between her hand and the sudden illumination. I simply blinked at the now flickering flame, confused. Hoping for an explanation, I looked up at The Queen, whose eyes were curiously roaming about my tiny home. They paused on the bisque fired pottery, lingered on canvases with just their underpainting and hovered over partially unwoven tapestries before finding landing on me.
“Even unfinished, your work is exquisite,” she said. She continued looking around but with awe as she noticed a little drawing on my table that was near completion.
I didn’t know what to say. Somehow, I felt as if The Queen was examining me. I felt compelled to stop her. “Y-Your Majesty…?”
Done examining, she simply strode over to my bed, and sat down, frowning at it upon doing so.
There was a brief moment where she only looked me up and down but said nothing.
“Let’s get past the formalities.” The grin on her face widened. “I’ve had my eye on you for a while, but i had to see if you lived up to all the hype. You most certainly do—exceed it, even. I want you to work as my personal artisan.”
The words did not make sense at first. ‘Me? The Queen’s personal artisan?’ She found my consternation amusing.
“Then, I’ll take that as a yes,” she said standing up and sending glow everywhere. “Gather your things and we’ll—what?”
The words were sinking in finally; they were slowly processing and I was not sure what to do or say. How was I supposed to go and just fit right in with the highest of society?
“But, I have no clothes…that are appropriate to your court—and nothing to offer in exchange.”
To my surprise, she approached me, that stance grin on her face like she knew something that no other could comprehend. She untied her cloak, which, at such close range, I could see was fine fur. Each strand shimmered in the flickering lamplight. She wrapped it around me and tied it. “You needn’t worry about the little things. I think it would be best for you if you come with me. I have only your best interest at heart. Now get your things, but only what you most need. Most everything will be provided.”
I quickly set to work on gathering my belongings, taking care that my tools were all carefully packed and that I had all my raw materials. Besides a few clothes, I took nothing else. I stopped to consider packing my unfinished work but The Queen pointed out that I would make more. Finished at last, I turned to take a final look at what would be my former home: the pottery, tapestries, drawings and paintings all left behind like common litter.
“The carriage is waiting,” The Queen said. “Let us go.”
I remembered something important and mentally scolded myself for nearly forgetting it. “Just one thing more, Your Majesty,” I said rushing over to my bed and reaching under it. I pulled out a little package bound in leather. With a note attached to it.
The Queen raised in brow in curiosity. “What is that?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know; I don’t remember where it came from or how I got it. There’s a note in it that says, ‘Open when you feel it’s time to spread your wings.'”
But, The Queen was hardly interested. She had already left and was climbing into the bright yellow carriage with dainty white trim that looked like doilies. I recognized the driver as the skinny man who had harassed me at the gate earlier. I noticed he was resolutely studying an imaginary spot in his shoe and never once looked up. I couldn’t help but smile at the irony: he would have to guard me from now on. I crawled inside and delighted in sinking into plush velvet cushions within. The Queen watched my amazement with joy.
“I can tell I’m going to love working for you,” I said as the carriage began to pull off into the night toward the main part if Reville.