A quiet knock on the door brought Kiara back to the room with a start. The lock turned and a young girl appeared with a supper tray. She was thin, with a boyish figure and lank hair and pale greasy skin. Kiara thought that she looked very tired and unhappy. She greeted her with a wave, but just received a wary look in return. The servant girl placed the tray on a little breakfast table and left without a word. Again, the clicking of the lock and Kiara was alone.
She sat on the single chair provided and picked at her food with little appetite. It was obviously left-overs from dinner. A small fish peered at her from its bed of over-cooked vegetables, which had been piled carelessly onto the plate. She stared at the fish for a while, saddened by such an ungracious ending to its short life. She placed the cover back on the plate and looked around the room. She shivered. The fire was beginning to die,- and with no obvious source of fuel, it was probably best if she prepared for bed before it got too cold.
As she sat brushing her hair by the mirror, she half hoped to see the faery in the reflection, but she never came.
That night, for the first time since her exile, she dreamt of her homeland. She was beginning to remember, and it made her very sad.
She was flying towards the large oak tree that dominated her forest home. The sun was setting, leaving a bright glow in the sky. Out of the haze, flew about a hundred fae. She could see their smiles as their arms opened. Everything seemed to have a golden aura of joy. Their transparent wings split the light into rainbow colours which seemed to radiate out in huge waves.
Everyone was communicating at once and all trying to hug her at the same time. It was a glorious bedlam of song and touch and warmth. She thought that she would burst for joy.
Then the crowd around her became silent. They opened up a wide corridor. There through the tunnel of oscillating wings, she saw the queen. The queen beckoned. She tried to fly to her but could not move. The others began to shake her and push her forward. It was no good. She was frozen in mid air.
“Come on! Up you get! You have a busy day ahead and breakfast is ready. Come and eat it while it is still hot!”. Kiara looked up at the source of the friendly voice. For a moment, she thought it was a pixie. Tiny oval face, black curly hair, and eyes as large and brown as her own.
“I’m Anna belle”, she said, “and Matron is my mama!. You are very pretty! I think we will be good friends!”. “Mara was very busy with the other girls, so mama let me bring your breakfast up. They all share a room, but you have your own room because you are very rich, Mara said”. She paused very slightly for breath. “Are you very rich?” Oh! You cannot speak, can you? Never mind Mama says I talk enough for ten girls! And Look! I have a Key!” As Annabelle raised the key, Kiara decided that they would be very good friends indeed. She smiled at her. She climbed from the bed and sat at the little table. She had regained her appetite and she ate with relish, as Annabelle chattered away ceaselessly beside her.
Annabelle sat with her as she got herself ready for the day. She brushed her hair for her and put a pretty wooden comb in it. That pleased Kiara. It was a gift from Martha, but she would never have managed to put it in by herself. She decided that she liked having a friend. On impulse, she took a silver pin, in the shape of a hare, from her jewellery box and gave it to her. Annabelle gave her the biggest hug ever. “Mama says I must bring you to her as soon as you are ready”.
They set off, hand in hand, and she led Kiara through a maze of corridors and up a set of spiral stairs. Finally she knocked on a door and they entered a room that had a big desk and lots of bookshelves filled with rows and rows of big heavy books. Each had a single large letter and some numbers on the spine. Matron was sitting behind the desk. She smiled.“Good morning Kiara!. I wanted to have a little chat before you saw the doctor”. Annabelle!, Run along and get yourself off to class!. I am sure that you two can get together later,- once lessons are over”.
She turned to Kiara, “You would like that,- wouldn’t you Kiara?”. Kiara nodded… suddenly feeling wary again.
“Come child!. I wish to show you something, and explain the rules of our little establishment.
She took her down yet another long corridor and up a flight of stairs. They led out into a smaller corridor. Here the walls were made of rough stone. It felt cold and draughty. They went through yet another door. It was old and heavy with a big bolt on the outside. Inside was a set of creaking wooden stairs which seemed to spiral up forever. Kiara was frightened by the stairs and the steep drop over the handrails. Matron grabbed her arm roughly and forced her upwards. The stairs went up through heavy wooden beams and she found herself standing by a row of metal bars. There were small holes in the wall instead of windows. Behind the bars she could see a cot and a bucket in the corner. The room stank horribly and she tried to pull back, but Matron had an iron grip on her arm.
“ Look child! There is only one rule. You must do as I say! There is only one punishment. If you misbehave, then you will be left here until you have learned your lesson. Do we understand each other?” Kiara nodded.
Back in her office, Matron was again friendly. She gave Kiara a children’s book to look at while she waited for the doctor. Kiara pondered this new aspect to the situation she was in. She dreaded to think of what would happen if she ran away and got caught again. But at least she had a friend. As for that terrible room,- she decided that she had no intention of ever misbehaving.
She wanted to learn to write, and if the Matron kept her promise and she got her voice back,- then she might soon be on her way home. As she sat looking at the pictures and idly deciphering the words of the story, she wondered if her faery friend would come back. A single message to her elders might quickly free her from this awful predicament.
Lost in thought, she slowly became aware that she was being watched. She looked up to find herself face to face with the tiniest human she had ever seen. As she looked into his eyes she felt a little dizzy. It was almost as if she was seeing him twice at the same time. There were conflicting images as she looked at him. One image was of a small smart gentleman in a suit, with kindly eyes and a big friendly smile. But behind that she sensed something vaguely familiar. She caught the faint, feral stench of a goblin and she could have sworn that beneath his smile were rows of sharp pointed teeth. For some strange reason, she felt calmer that she had, since her visit to the room in the tower.
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