A rewrite of my original idea. Still the same premise of Charlotte(Tabitha) summoning Ciaran while still in Gallia though the start is changed. I just also used Anne as Charlotte's mother's name since I can't find her name in the LN, it's always 'Duchess Orleans' or 'Madame Orleans'. And since there isn't all that much information about Gallia characters, I'm going to have to use OCs to fill the gap. They probably all come from the Three Musketeers as well though.
The knight in black and blue teetered along the cobblestone steps. One hand clenched tightly around a golden blade whilst the other clamped to her side, blood seeping past the armoured fingers and staining the floor in a long trail of red. From behind its curtain of clouds, the sun gazed upon her, lazily seated on its unreachable throne in the sky.
If she didn't know any better, she might have taken it as some symbolic gesture from her lord. Alas it was naught but a foolish notion now. Her lord was lord of sunlight no longer and he ruled naught but cinder. Had she the breath, a chuckle may have escaped her at the queer pondering of her mind. Certainly, now was an odd time to be reminiscing of the past.
Another step and her legs violently shook in protest, threatening to collapse under her if she persisted. Her own body was betraying her as it desperately wanted rest, demanded it even! But though her body was failing, her mind remained clear as a crystal. She could not stop now. Not when she was this close. So, so close.
And with the next step upwards, her body followed through with its threat as her left leg buckled under the strain. She fell to the side, the mossy wall greeting her sinking form with its cold hard embrace. Already numb with pain, the impact prompted only a quiet grunt at most. Slumped against the wall, she took a moment to regain her balance.
From behind her porcelain mask, dull eyes gazed ahead to spy her destination. A coliseum, or the dwindling ruins of one. Now, it was a mere shadow of its former glory. Its walls overtaken by nature, deep gouges and splashes of blood decorating its floors. And despite the sun illuminating it entire interior with its glowing radiance, a dark and sorrowful atmosphere hung over it. Though, she supposed the same could be said of all of Oolacile.
Tensing her shoulder, she propelled herself off of the wall and weakly stumbled up the next step. A large smear of crimson left behind on the wall, an unwelcome reminder of the severity of her wounds. She paid it only a moment's attention. There was little time to be wasted.
Several steps later and she found herself standing before the entrance; the old archway leading into short passageway absent half of its stone blocks. Unstable as it appeared, she could only pray that it did not collapse atop her as she traversed underneath it. All this effort to arrive her at this destination, only to be crushed by falling rocks. It would make for a rather pathetic tale. The Lord's Blade Ciaran slain by rocks. Ornstein would have fit upon hearing it.
Still... she made it through without incident and as she shuffled onto the paved arena grounds; a deafening high pitch bark echoed across the stands and filled her ears. Formerly huddled away in a corner, the great wolf Sif bounded across to happily meet her. Within mere seconds Sif was upon her, the wolf prancing around her and whining in jubilation.
"S... Sif." Ciaran gasped out, her lips tugging upwards into a slight smile upon seeing him fine and without injury. A hand was gingerly raised to tenderly stroke the soft fur of Sif's neck, the wolf inclining his head to accommodate her hand. She maintained her stroking for what might have been minutes, ceasing only when she noticed she had left ugly streaks of red across the silvery hair though Sif seemed to not mind. His gleaming golden eyes looking up to meet her own. "I... told you... I... would come..."
Her words trailed off as Sif suddenly let loose an unhappy whine and lightly prodded her side with the tip of his snout. She involuntarily flinched away from the unexpected contact, a shiver of pain striking her body. This provoked a second whine, this one crawling with misery. No doubt, Sif had noticed the severity of her wounds. He had always been smart like that. Far, far smarter than others of the same breed. And he had realized that she was beyond saving. There was none nearby that could heal her wounds and she, herself, lacked the energy to cast any healing miracles. Death was all that awaited her now. And with her gone... Sif would be all alone. After all, his master was also... "So... sorry Sif..."
Fatigued eyes shifted their view beyond Sif to the small rudimentary grave lying in near the centre of the coliseum. Crafted from just a collection of meagre stones, she had planted a single daintily flower at its fore in remembrance of the man who had fallen on this spot... He deserved better. Rather than this shallow, unmarked grave, he should be buried with full honours and accolades within the shining halls of Anor Londo.
Using the last of her strength, she shuffled over to stand in front of the grave at a moderate pace. Sif treading carefully after her, mindful of her unstable steps. Such a good wolf he was.
And it was there, before the grave of Knight Artorias, that the Lord's Blade Ciaran collapsed onto her knees.
The end was nigh. A cliché manner to put her dire straits but true nonetheless. She warmly reached out and skimmed the surface of the grave of her stupid, stupid knight. A light smile formed at her lips as she recalled all the idiotic jokes he had told with her, the light hearted banter he shared with Gough and all the moronic arguments he had with Ornstein over the most obtuse things.
And he just had to play the hero. Look at where that had gotten him now? A bitter chuckle snuck out of her mouth. And yet despite his untimely death, she knew that, given the chance, he would rush back into the fight again if he had even the slimmest chance of saving Oolacile from the encroaching abyss. He was genuine model knight.
She limply sank down to her side and met the unfeeling touch of the rigid floor. Glistening eyes never losing sight of the grave. Another sombre chuckle escaped her. And if he was an idiot for playing hero then she was twice as dumb as him. Risking... or rather losing life and limb to rescue Sif from the darkness. Though she, at least, succeeded in her goal.
The thought put a light hearted smile on her lips. Definitely a thought to raise up with Artorias... if they ever meet again. Perhaps... in better life?
Fading eyes crept shut as the darkness of her mind began to envelop her. At the back of her head, she thought she could hear Sif howl but soon, that too, faded from her mind.
The noon sun shone high above.
The gem-blue pond glistened like glitter under its radiant gaze as the songs of the nesting birds carried pleasantly on the calm breeze. Sat upon a marble bench stashed away in a quiet corner of the palace's magnificent gardens, Charlotte d'Orleans savoured the cool air, having just escaped from the bustle of the dominated the rest of Versailles. A sizeable tome, a collection of tales and legends, was planted onto an ornate table. Breathing a long sigh of relief, she flipped open the cover, eager to begin and immerse herself into its stories.
"Good day Lady Orleans." A polite if pompous voice cut through her moment of calm like a hot knife through butter. Starting in surprise, she slammed the cover back down as she swivelled to meet the noble who had approached her with a wide smile. She had assumed that she had managed to keep her head down and escape the notice of the large party of noble; a mistake as it would turn out.
"Good day my lord..." she replied with a trained curtsey, trailing off to allow the noble to introduce himself
"Count Rochefort. A staunch friend and ally of your late father." the count loudly introduced himself on cue with a deferential bow. "I haven't seen you since you were still a small child. It is good to see that you've grown into a fine young lady."
"You flatter me." she returned with a timid smile, awkward with the praise. Deep blue eyes precariously scanned the older man, trying to find a match in her memory. It took a few moments of strenuous thinking for her to be rewarded. Count Rochefort was the guy that came to borrow some money that one-time last year. A snappy look at his chin confirmed he still had the funnily sharp beard on his chin.
"Not enough I would say and ah..." Rochefort's lips dithered for a split-second as he suddenly recalled what he had come here to say. Immediately, his bombastic smile ceased to exist as he spoke his next words in a low tone. "I am truly sorry for your loss Lady Charlotte. You father was a great man and will be deeply missed."
"Thank you lord Rochefort. We all will miss him." she impassively replied without missing a beat, taming down a frown that threatened to snap out. The same response, all the time. It was nearly automatic now given how often she had to say it. But no matter how annoyed she currently was, she had to present the proper image of a courteous noble just like... just like her father always taught her.
"Indeed. Your father was a grand man. A hero by all accounts! I am proud to have been close enough to call him a friend!" Rochefort exclaimed, one of his free hands apparently deciding now was a good time to stroke at his sharp beard. Charlotte simply nodded along, giving a few murmurs of agreement when prompted as the man went on and on with praises for her father and the grief he felt upon hearing his... his death.
Her hand tightly clenched at the edges of her book as the count rambled on. The voice and person may differ but the words and sentiments were nearly always the same. It would always be about close they were with her father and how amazing he was. Then, when they were nearing the end; they would say "I am always willing to provide whatever help you may need in these difficult times my lady. You need but call and I shall answer without fail."
She had heard the same offers before. Mother said they were all just 'hot air'. What that really meant, she wasn't exactly sure but she just assumed that it meant they were lying. It was probably right or close enough since mother never deemed to correct her. Even so, she was required to kindly reply just like how a proper lady would. "Thank you for your support my lord. I will remember your offer."
"No thanks are required and be sure to inform your mother as well." would be their reply. It would always be like that. The daughter of the Duchess of Orleans didn't really matter; they weren't talking to her because they wanted to. It was only when her mother wasn't available that they would even bother to approach her. She was just a vessel to pass on their message. "Ah! You will have to excuse me. I believe Duke Luynes is calling for me."
She, of course, heard nothing of the sort from the thundering crowd of nobles milling about in the gardens. However, just as eager to end this, naturally she replied "Of course Count Rochefort. Have a pleasant day."
"And you too Lady Charlotte." Another smile already creeping up to take root upon his lips as the count took his first step back away from her. And then in a flurry of quick strides, the count vanished back into the throngs of nobles. Rochefort's opulent form mixing right in with the extravagant noble personages and disappearing from her sight in seconds. Once she was certain that the man would not be returning, she let loose an irritated sigh.
Perhaps this Rochefort had really been a close friend of her father. She really had no idea. Her... her father always had a lot of friends. So many that they always had to hold meetings in a really big hall otherwise they couldn't fit in everyone. But then all she knew of Rochefort was that he borrowed some money. That... didn't really make them friends did it? Physically shaking the inquiry out of her mind, she shrunk back into her seat. She didn't know nor did she really care!
Turning back to her book, she fumbled over the cover and began to flip through the musty pages. Blue eyes skimming through its contents, her mind now distracted and uninterested in the otherwise fantastical stories. It was only when she realized that she had gone through about a third of the book in under a minute that she slammed the back shut again in disgust. Discontented, her desire to read had all be evaporated. But then what should she do?
Entertaining the fanciful idea of simply retreating back into the apartments reserved for her family, she made a few mock steps back in the direction of the palace. Then she recalled her other's stern warnings about doing exactly that. Not to mention that Percerin, the family butler, was probably still there as well and there was no doubt that he would tattle on her at the first opportunity. No; secluding herself in the apartments was a bad idea. She didn't want to get into trouble. But... maybe there were other places she could go to. Versailles was a really, really big place after all.
She would never have the chance to ponder any further as a familiar face popped out of the crowds. Wearing a simple yet dignified black butler uniform, Percerin waded his way through the crowd. With his greying hair and obvious subservient gestures, he stuck out like crazy in the midst of all the extravagantly dressed nobles. As he drew closer, she noticed that Percerin was swinging his head left and right like crazy, searching the crowds for a certain someone; probably her.
"Percerin! Over here!" she shouted out to him. Her tiny voice utterly failing to pierce through the volume of all the chatter. It was only when she began to frantically wave her arms up in the air that she finally managed to catch the eye of her butler. Using her flailing arms and distinctive teal hair as a beacon Percerin made a beeline for her, apologizing and making excuses to all those he bumped through along the way.
"Ha... ha... Miss Charlotte..." Percerin gushed out before bending over, hands clasped over his knees, and heaving in several deep breaths. His momentary breather was over in fast. Taking one final breath before straightening himself back up, he regained the regal poise of a proud, first-class butler. "Ahem. Your mother was searching for you Miss Charlotte. She asks that you return to the apartments as soon as possible."
"She did?" Charlotte asked in surprise. "Did she say why?"
"The madame did not specify." Percerin shifted uncomfortably before continuing, in a low voice. "However I will note that she appeared in great distress. I would urge you to hurry Miss Charlotte."
Her mother? In distress? What about? She was about to pose this very question to Perecin when she spotted yet another noble approaching them. Sporting a frown, she promptly grabbed her book and snapped off in the opposite direction. With Perecin pacing a proper distance behind, she made her way back to the palace at a brisk pace, the Orleans apartments her destination.
At the back entrance, two knights on guard bowed and bade her well. She weaved her way past the even thicker crowds that occupied the interiors of the palace. The few attempts of starting a conversation were all speedily declined in a way she hoped wasn't too disrespectful. Mother would probably growl at her if she ended up making more trouble for her by accidentally insulting some noble. Once she actually reached the living spaces of the palace, the differences were adamant. Compared to the rest of the palace, the apartments were abandoned in comparison though architecturally, they were certainly not inferior. The scant nobles they passed by were huddled in groups, too consumed in their own personal conversations to pay any notice to their passing. More commonly they saw various teams of servants, all too busy or cowed to offer more than a polite bow.
The deeper in the walked, the less and less servants they saw working and the more and more guards they saw patrolling. Of course, it should be no surprise to anyone. It only made sense that the apartments reserved for the royal family was more tightly guarded. Taking a sharp turn just before the apartments of the king himself, she found themselves walking towards a familiar room. A single commoner guard stood on guard, wearing a tabard sewn with the heraldry of the royal family, a fancy white line drawn atop the symbol denoting the Orleans family, the cadet branch of the royal family. The same said guard bowed slightly, informed them that the duchess was expecting them and then opened the door for them. Without further ado, he quickly ushered them into the room before shutting the door behind them with a solid thump.
"Mother?" Charlotte called out upon entering the luxurious room. Slumped into the comfiest chair in the room was her mother, her long hair crumpled up and a shadow cast over her usually pleasant face. At the sound of her voice, her mother burst out of the seat and frantically dashed over towards her.
"Charlotte! Charlotte, my daughter!" her mother gushed out as she wrapped her around her and pulled her into a tight embrace. Taken aback, Charlotte gasped and fell into mute silence as she hesitantly returned the hug. Her worry drastically escalated when she sighted the wet tear marks staining her mother's cheeks.
"M... Mother? What's wrong?" Charlotte asked. Behind her she could hear Percerin discreetly exiting the room, intending to give the two of them a moment of privacy.
Her mother muttered her names a few more times before gently pulling back and fixed her with a forlorn stare. "Charlotte... you know I love you very, very much."
Charlotte gulped down at her mother's ominous words. Books weren't reflective of real life, she knew that. Yet what mother just said reminded her way too much if all those bittersweet tragedies. "W... what's wrong? Did something happen?!"
"N... It's nothing for you to worry about Charlotte." Her mother unconvincingly reassured her after a moment's hesitation. Directing her to the centre of the room, her mother continued. "I just need you to do a little thing for me."
"Anything!" Anything to make bring her mother's usual state back. "What do I need to do?"
Her mother gave her a sad smile that she couldn't understand before saying. "We're going to summon a familiar for you."
I, Charlotte Helene d'Orleans,
She heard a voice. Sweet and young. Echoing across the darkness the smothered her.
In the name of the Five Great Pentagon Powers,
She felt a tug. Gentle and comforting. Slowing drawing her back from the dark.
Following my fate, summon my familiar!
Ciaran opened her eyes.
She blinked away the blurriness in her perception as light flooded into her eyes. Immediately noticeable was the absence of the shadowy insides of her mask. It left her feeling... unsettled.
The chilliness that had seeped across her body was no longer. Rather she felt... a literal blanket of warmth smothering her. Scanning her surroundings, she found herself in an extremely extravagant bed, equal to the one within her chambers in Anor Londo, the one she never uses. The rest of the room she found herself was no less expensive. Golden lining and frames for every piece of decoration, not a single wall left unadorned with either a painting or some marble carving. And one could only wonder how much work the admittedly beautiful mural drawn upon the ceiling had taken.
But there was perhaps a more question at hand; namely how she came to be here. She recalled dying within the coliseum within Oolacile, a very unpleasant experience. Then she had fallen unconscious and there was not a great deal that she could recall with that. And then...
She had heard a voice. A young female child, likely human as well. Charlotte Helene d'Orleans, it sounded like a name that belonged to aristocracy, the room she found herself in certainly supported that theory. There was some invocation in the name of 'five pentagon powers', powers that she had no recognition of. And then... she had been summoned, as a familiar...
It was a... interesting sequence of events if nothing else, extremely convenient and suspiciously well timed. She had heard of witch's that took upon the studious and long task of summoning and binding a familiar to their will. They were, however, few in number and the familiar summoned was, in most cases, not worth the difficulty in preparing the ritual. What was the chances that a witch decided to summon a familiar and summoned her just as she was about to perish? Evidently higher than she would have guessed.
But then where was her summoner of hers, this Charlotte Helene d'Orleans? Craning her head in both directions, she noted down the single entrance into the room. A single ornate door on her left, past a furnished lounge. What also didn't escape her notice was the large red smudge on the carpet, as if someone had tried to clean out the blood from it. She could only guess who had been the source of such a large stain. And further along, unceremoniously dumped upon a round table was all her equipment. That aside, there was nothing else of notable interest in sight and certainly no Charlotte.
And as if fate decided at that very moment to play her a fool, the instant she finished the thought was when the door slowly creaked open. In came two humans, one a woman and the other a child. Their appearance was remarkably similar, teal blue hair aside, it would not be too presumptuous to assume they were family. Mother and daughter most likely. And to match the room, their dresses were of the finest quality fleshed out with a plume of colours. The woman held the door open and spoke to someone unseen outside in a hushed voice before firmly shutting it, the audible click of a lock reaching her ear.
A thought flickered through her mind and she considered feigning sleep but she thought better of it. Any information she could learn from eavesdropping could be more easily learned with a more direct approach. She was almost certain that the pair was not hostile to her. Why bother going through the effort of saving her and leaving her unguarded and unchained like this if they were? …And if they did intend to kill her for some inscrutable reason, what has she to lose? She could not resist like this so all they have done was prolong her death.
With that in mind, she laboriously sat up on her bed, earning her gasps of surprise from the two humans. And whilst the presumed mother was retrained to just raising a hand to cover her gasp, the presumed daughter pointed an incredulous finger at her and exclaimed "You're awake!?"
It was shrill and loud compared to before but she recognised the voice. And it was thus she now knew for a certainty that the child was Charlotte, her summoner… She certainly did not match her preconception of witches and she had expected someone… older? Pushing away her pesky presumptions, she answered "Yes I am… And I believe I have you to thank for saving my life."
"M…me? Um… mother did most of the work. I just summoned you." Charlotte nervously stuttered at first before finishing on a more confident note when her mother placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"Then I have both of you to thank." For she would have certainly died without their intervention. Though whether that was a blessing or not remained to be seen.
"About that," the mother spoke up and stepped closer. "Do you still feel any lingering pain or anything alike? I haven't healed anyone in years so I'm afraid I might have missed anything."
"I can no longer feel my injuries though I do feel… stiff." Ciaran admitted.
"That should be normal… I think." The mother said with a bit of uncertainty.
"You think?" That was not very reassuring and Ciaran briefly wondered if there was perhaps some part of her body that might have been healed wrong. Certainly something to check out later.
"As I said, I haven't healed anyone in years." The mother responded with a bit more force than she intended. Sheepishly clearing her throat, she dipped her head slightly and politely said "But where are my manners, my name Anne d'Orleans. Duchess of Orleans."
A squeeze on Charlotte's shoulder and the girl involuntarily squeaked before understanding the sign. With a quick curtsy, she introduced herself as "Charlotte d'Orleans."
"I am Ciaran." She said, paying close attention to their reaction. Introducing herself as the Lord's Blade always put others on edge more so than simply 'Ciaran'. It was really minor and anyone with knowledge and a brain could put the two names together. Though it would appear that it was unnecessary as neither of them reacted even the slightest. Perhaps her name was unknown to them? Not entirely surprising. She had always been the least known and least public member of the Four Knights of Gwyn.
"Well…" Anne muttered as the conversation faded out. "Charlotte?"
"Yes?" Charlotte immediately replied, a bit surprised to be called upon.
"Could you please fetch some water for Miss Ciaran? I'm sure she must be thirsty." Anne said in a manner that made it clear that the request was no less than an order.
"Eh? Couldn't Percerin do that?" Charlotte protested, naming someone Ciaran suspected was some servant, before slumping down in resignation when she met her mother's unrelenting glare. "…Yes mother."
With that, Charlotte slowly trotted out of the room. Backward glances met with silence and a hard look from Anne. Stepping out of the doorway, she cast one last look before slamming the door behind her with an audible bang in a not so subtle protest.
"Now… I'm certain you must be wondering why I had my daughter summon you." Anne spoke after waiting a minute in complete silence.
"The thought had crossed my mind." Ciaran admitted.
"Well, simply put; I needed someone to protect my daughter when I'm gone."
'When I'm gone.' Ominous words indeed. The Lady of Orleans did not bear the appearance of one in bad health nor was she near old enough to simply expire. But she was a member of human nobility and even if she did not recognise the kingdom, humans being humans, "Are you expecting an assassin?"
It was when the last word had left her lips did she realize the rather poor pun she had inadvertently made. It would be lost on the human but she was not usually this careless with her words.
"Not an assassin per se, but poison. Tonight to be exact. In a goblet meant for my daughter." Anne sheepishly acknowledged. "So you can see my urgency."
Yes, she could see the need for urgency but there was yet remained another question yet unanswered. "If you are aware of this, why have you not taken other measures to stop the poison?"
"It's... it's complicated." Anne hesitantly said. And after the silence that followed, she exhaled and slowly said "I should probably appraise you of the situation first shouldn't I?"
"Well... to start, my husband was assassinated not too long ago by his brother, the King of Gallia."
"You have proof of this?" Ciaran half-heartedly asked her. With just that one statement from before she could already begin to see where this tale was heading. A paranoid king that had killed his enemies and was now cleaning up what remained.
"The bastard more or less admitted it straight to my face!" Anne hissed out before taking a pause. Utilizing this moment to recompose herself, she continued. "And now he's taken to threatening my daughter as well."
Which would explain why tonight's poison was intended for Charlotte though not how Anne is aware of the poison and why she intends to drink it rather than safely dispose of it.
"So I made a deal with him. My life for my daughters." Anne said with finality. "He'll leave my daughter in peace while I'm dead. Without me, Charlotte won't ever be a threat."
"Yet you have summoned me." Ciaran pointed out. From how it sounded, she was summoned to be insurance, assuming that this king would not uphold his end of the bargain. But if she expected him to fail his side, why bother with the poison in the first place?
"Well, I wasn't exactly planning on summoning you specifically." Anne tentatively revealed. "Honestly, I expected something... different."
Then that would the two of them. "An animal perhaps?"
"No, no. I doubt a familiar with the void element would be a simple animal."
Void element? Yet another term she was unfamiliar with. Was it perhaps related to sorceries? Articulating her question, she received a quizzical look from Anne.
"Hah, I suppose I should probably explain that as well shouldn't I? Essentially, Charlotte..."
Both of them immediately fell silent as a series of rapid knocks on the door reached their ears. Then through the door, "Mother! I'm back with some water."
"Charlotte's back." Anne hushed out to her. Fixing her with a solid look, she demanded "Not a single word to Charlotte."
Ciaran had no time to respond properly before the door was pushed open by an elderly human man. Underneath his arm was Charlotte, precariously balancing a jug and several goblets held aloft upon a silver tray. Clearing his throat, the human man announced "Lady Charlotte has returned milady."
The human's eyes then suddenly fell upon her as Charlotte bobbed passed underneath his arm. A mishmash of surprise and concern filling his face. Recognising this, Anne hurriedly bounded past Charlotte and leaned in close to the man. "You saw nothing Percerin. Is that understood?"
To his credit, this Percerin didn't question the order and immediately bowed deeply. "Understood milady. Just you and your daughter having a nice chat in your room and nothing else." And after receiving a satisfied nod from his mistress, Percerin slowly closed the door behind him with nary a second look.
Charlotte on the other hand gave her mother a worried look. After carefully filling the three glasses with water and passing one to each of them she asked "Mother… why are we keeping this a secret?"
Ciaran deigned to remain silent as Anne answered "Because you're not meant to summon a familiar this young. We'd get in trouble so we have to keep it a secret."
For a short time, an expression of understanding dawned upon the child's face. This dwindled quickly into another question "But then what did I summon Miss Ciaran for?"
Maria hesitated. Her façade of calm stumbling for just a moment before replying with "…I'll tell you tomorrow okay Charlotte?"
Ciaran suppressed a chortle at the answer. Given she planned to die tonight, it was certainly one way to avoid ever giving an answer. And she doubted it was a good idea to keep her daughter unaware of the dangers awaiting her at court. But… it was not her place to object, tempting as it was.
"But…" Charlotte uttered, obviously not satisfied with the answer.
"Tomorrow." Her mother repeated in a hard tone, leaving no room for argument from her daughter. In a posh voice, she said "Now, we need to prepare for dinner. It shan't be long now."
"…Yes mother." Charlotte dropped her argument, glumly holding down her head. A light flashed in her eyes as she then perked her face back up and asked "Can I talk to Miss Ciaran a little bit before we leave? Please? I haven't even gotten a chance yet."
Anne dithered over an answer, a careful eye warming over her, seeming unsure if she could trust her to keep her silence. Which was odd, really. Given everything else, she certainly appeared to trust the strange woman her daughter just summoned to keep her daughter safe. But then again, she also apparently trusted this kin-slaying King of hers to keep his word…
"That… will also have to wait till later I'm afraid. We should be off to dinner now." Anne finally decided with a light shake of her head. As Charlotte glowered in disappointment, her mother scrambled to find an excuse "Remember, this is Versailles. There is no stalling or being late here in the capital."
Charlotte, for a bit, seemed ready to argue before resigning herself to a defeated sigh. "I understand."
"Thank you Charlotte." Anne said. Taking her daughter by the hand, she led her towards the door. "Don't worry Charlotte. You'll see Miss Ciaran again soon. Then you can talk to her all you want."
"Alright…" Charlotte echoed agreement without much depth. Turning back, she raised her hand and gave a short wave. "Goodbye Miss Ciaran."
Ciaran lightly raised her hand and returned the gesture. "Farewell."
"Remember, I place my daughter in your hands." Anne called out to her just before she opened the door. And just before she closed the door, Ciaran could hear Charlotte asking what she meant. But whatever the reply may have been was quickly muted as they proceeded beyond the door and out of her hearing, leaving her, once again, in solitude.
Ah… what was she to do? Anne's plan reeked of desperation and she was almost certain Joseph would renege on their deal. Why shouldn't he? Their agreement was not the type to be public nor written, nothing to bind him in the least. She suspected that once Anne was dead; Joseph would quickly eliminate Charlotte in quick succession and that would be the end of her little summoner.
But who knows? She knew absolutely nothing about this King Joseph outside what Anne had told her. A single extremely bias source was a poor way of judging a person's character. Maybe he really does intend to keep his end of the deal.
Not to mention… her gaze turned to the door. She had neither agreed nor disagreed to protect her daughter. What was there to stop her from leaving? To returning to Lordran? The guards actually. However she could play along for now until there was an opportune chance to escape. With Anne dead, Charlotte would panic and likely wish to leave the palace. If not, she could persuade her of it and once they were on the road…
It would be a betrayal. A betrayal of the woman and daughter that had saved her life, accidental as it may have been. That unsettled her inside. Which was odd; betrayal was hardly an unknown concept to her. She's betrayed many that had placed their utter trust in her to complete the objectives set by her lord. Even now, if her lord ordered so; she would kill Anne and Charlotte without hesitation. Such was the duty of the Lord's Blade.
Except now she was a blade without a lord… and what did that mean for her now?
Softly sighing, she then chuckled slightly. She wasn't usually like this. Artorias's death had rattled her far more than she cared to admit. The thought of her knight brought a sad smile to her lips. And what if he had been summoned and saved rather than her? What would he have done in this mess?
A quiet laugh. What a redundant question. She knew exactly what that idealistic idiot would have done. He would save the princess as was proper for a knight. And though she may never be as knightly as him, she could at least imitate his ideals. That, she supposed, made her as much of idiot as him. An idea that did little to trouble her.
Charlotte needed to be protected and her greatest defence was not her but Anne. She had large doubts about Charlotte's ability in politics and intrigue. Not her fault really, she was but a child. It will have to be improved upon later but now was not the time. Once Anne died, Charlotte would be thrust onto the political stage and that would be akin to tossing a hare into a wolves' den. Right now, based on the information available to her, she believed that Anne's sacrifice would bring little benefit to Charlotte and would rather just invite her destruction in all the faster. And if nothing else, Anne staying alive would mean another warm body for her enemies to cut through first.
And then? What was to come afterwards? She needed to gather more information to plan ahead. Said plans would include neutralizing Joseph somewhere but first she needed to consolidate the Orleans position first. Assassinating a king would have its consequences and the Orleans would likely be the prime suspect. They would face retaliatory strikes from Joseph's allies and their new king or queen will likely be ill-disposed towards them. Hmph, hardly a minute since her resolution and she was already plotting regicide.
But the problem at hand was how to prevent Anne's death. She seemed resigned to it and she had no chance to persuade her otherwise now. That would mean she had to physically stop the poison… which was problematic. She had never been in this palace before and thus had no idea where the dining hall even was. And given what Anne had said earlier, she didn't have the time to waste trying to find it.
Lifting the blankets off of her body, she saw that the padding she had worn underneath her armour was replaced with a simple blue gown. They had likely changed her whilst she was still unconscious. Irrelevant in any case. She certainly wasn't going to wander the palace in her armour. She'd get at most a few steps before being stopped by some guard or servant. Hardly inconspicuous.
Swinging her body along, she let her legs fall to the ground and stood up with some effort. She stumbled forward a few steps, her hand smacking onto the table to steady herself.
This was troubling. As it would appear, even if she had been perfectly healed, the fatigue she had accumulated was still present. Wonderful. Not only was she limited in time but also she also risked collapsing at any moment. Just wonderful.
So as Ciaran hobbled for the door, her hands grasping onto any surface it could to steady herself, a new idea formulated in her mind. It didn't need to be her to stop the poison; there was that very loyal servant that had been just outside the door. It was risky. Not only to herself but also to Anne. So many things could go wrong. The servant, Percerin, could totally ignore her and bar her exit. He could also even fail at intercepting the poison. For all she knew, Percerin might not even be at the door! But she certainly had to try did she not?
And worse come to worse, she would have to find and steal clothes that would let her travel the palace without raising suspicions, preferably a servant's one. Then she just had to find the dining hall in what was likely a monster sized building. Once she did that, all she had to do was find Anne, correctly identify which servant was bringing the poisoned drink and then somehow make them drop the drink or otherwise make sure it never reaches Anne… she prayed this Percerin didn't follow after his mistress.
Leaning on the wall just beside the door, she reached down and turned the knob. Letting it swing in, she felt some relief to meet the eyes of the old servant, suspicious and wary. Looking her over, Percerin took a moment to clear his throat, an attempt to buy time to collect his thoughts.
"You are Percerin." Ciaran took the initiative, not leaving him time to speak first. "Loyal servant of the Orleans, are you not?"
"…I am indeed." Percerin warily answered after giving her a good measure. From behind him, another man stepped into view. Middle aged, battle scars, a firm hand fingering a sheathed rapier; the guard struck an intimidating posture which, she supposed, was intended to be threatening. Pretending not to notice the man behind him, Percerin elaborated "Served three generations of Orleans faithfully. My loyalty is not in question."
"Good." She said with a smile. "Then would you like the chance to save your mistress's life?"
Charlotte silently fumed as she followed after her mother through the dining chamber. All the servants and less important nobles giving way to let them pass. She barely noticed at all when she sat herself at her table, placed at the head of the chamber in a slightly elevated position.
All across the room were the gathered nobles of Gallia. Only those with the most pressing issues or otherwise occupied with other duties would be absent. The more prominent nobles usually seated around their political allies and stuff. And with every few nobles present; there were at the very least one servant attending them. Not to mention the over abundance of guards. Knights of the East Rose, West Lily and South Tulip, the three main orders of Royal Knights of the Parterres, were all present which was very rare since usually only one would be kept as palace guards at a time. Putting aside the crowds and doing the best to drone out all the noise; Charlotte sunk back into her own thoughts.
Her mother was keeping something secret from her. A really, really big secret. It was probably what made her so upset earlier but rather than tell her; mother decided to tell Miss Ciaran instead! She was sure of it. Why else would she send her away on such a menial errand? And then, the way that she insisted they leave for dinner; obviously done so she couldn't ask Miss Ciaran about it! Did her mother not even trust her own daughter? And, no offense to her familiar, but for what reason does Miss Ciaran get to be let in on the secret when she doesn't?
And then, just as they left, her mother said something really, really weird. Leaving me in Miss Ciaran's care? Did she mean that Miss Ciaran was going to look after her once dinner was done? But wasn't the point of a familiar to look after their master? But then why would she say that? Maybe she was going to go on a long trip and had to leave her behind under Miss Ciaran's care? But then that didn't make sense since Percerin could always take care of her. Or maybe...
"Your meal Princess Charlotte." The voice from behind startled her a little.
Turning about to see the maid serving her pre-ordered meal, Charlotte said "Thank you for the meal."
She wasn't exactly sure but the maid seemed a bit surprised by her thanks. Which was a bit odd but there was no time to dwell as the maid quickly moved off. Shrugging it off, she swivelled to sneak a look at what her mother was having for dinner only to spot her very nervously scanning the crowds of people before them. Her fingers fidgeting with her utensils and playing with her food, not a single bit in. "Is there something wrong?"
Her mother started a bit and then gave her an unconvincing smile. "It's nothing Charlotte."
Charlotte frowned at the answer. She just didn't get it. There was obviously something wrong but again her mother won't tell her! "Are you sure? You look really… "
"It's nothing." Her mother repeated with a bit more force to her voice.
Charlotte angrily glared. And once again, even when there was something obviously wrong, her mother still wouldn't tell her! She was about to give an irate retort when a familiar face popped up behind her mother, from one of the many entrances to the hall.
"Percerin?" she softly said in surprise. The elderly man bore an odd expression and as their eyes met; he seemed extremely relieved for reasons unbeknownst to her.
But what was he doing here? Her mother left him behind to take care of Miss Ciaran just in case didn't she? If he was here... did something bad happen back at the apartments, then? A quick glance at her mother showed that she hadn't seemed to notice the presence of their butler. Rather, her attention was fixated on the maid that had served her food earlier; in the midst of coming back to their table with a tray of drinks. Her utensils down and her fingers intensely gripping at the edge of the table. Was there something wrong with the maid? Because if there was, she wasn't seeing it. What was going on?!
Looking back at Percerin for any hint, she blinked when she spotted the butler also following her mother's gaze. And then, coming to a sudden resolution, Percerin brushed through a number of people, ignoring their outcries as he strode towards the maid as fast he possibly could.
"Percerin?" Her mother echoed her earlier surprise with a short gasp as she too spotted their butler making straight for the unaware maid. "What is he… no!"
Excusing herself from those seated nearby, her mother shoved out of her seat and made to chase after Percerin, moving as fast as she could without running. There was definitely something going on… and she wouldn't be left out of it again! She wanted to share her whatever was burdening her mother so she wouldn't have to suffer it alone. And it was with that reasoning in mind, Charlotte followed in her mother's suit and left her seat.
"Mother?" she called out above the crowd as she pursued her mother. Her mother gave her an anguished over the shoulder look before silently turning her head away. Further ahead, Percerin, upon spotting mother getting closer, dropped all pretences of etiquette and made a dash for the maid.
"Percerin! Stop!" her mother now shouted, drawing curious eyes from all across the hall. The maid they were all going for also took notice and appeared supremely surprised as she noticed the butler that appeared to block her path.
"I'm afraid I must stop you. Princess Charlotte declined to consume any alcohol tonight." Charlotte strained to hear Percerin hurriedly say to the maid. Her mother was drawing closer now, her fast walk now breaking into a sprint. Or as much of a sprint a lady could do while in a dress.
"Pardon? But Lady Orleans was the one who personally requested the drink."
"Then there must have been some mishap for I know Princess Charlotte despises the wine and would gladly do without it."
"Are you certain? As…"
"Percerin! What are you doing?!" her mother cried out when she was but moments away.
"Ah! Duchess Orleans." The maid said. She was about to take a step towards her but Percerin immediately placed himself between the maid and her mother.
"Percerin! Step aside." Her mother furiously demanded, trying to bypass him to the side.
"I'm afraid I cannot do that Madame." Percerin coolly replied as he sidestepped to remain in between them.
"Mother!" Charlotte gasped out as she hurried into place behind her, lightly panting a bit from the run through all the jostle. All around them now, a small crowd of bystanders watched in curiosity. The hushed whispers and gossip of them spreading like wildfire across the hall. Taking a breath, Charlotte asked "What's going on mother? Please tell me. I want to help."
"You can help by returning to your seat Charlotte!"
"No! You keep brushing me off like that but I can help! I'm not a child anymore!"
"Then stop acting like a child and go back to your seat!" her mother shouted back much to her astonishment. As she stood there in shock, her mother swerved on her heel to face an unmoved Percerin, she furiously shouted "Percerin! I'll make certain you'll never serve the Orleans again for this."
"You would not have the chance if I budged Madame." Percerin icily replied, not the least bothered by the threat.
Her mother seemed stunned by the statement. The whispers around them grew louder. And then, in a voice barely audible at all "…She told you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about Madame."
"E… Excuse me?" the now frightened maid squeaked out. Holding out her tray with the drink, she asked "W… What am I supposed to do with…"
"Give it to me!" her mother exclaimed as she shoved a hand past Percerin, fingers stretching to grasp at the cup.
Reacting far faster than any would ever give the old butler credit to, Percerin snatched the cup off the tray just as her mother's hand snapped around the space that it once occupied. Droplets of red wine splashing across the butler's sleeve. Unfortunately, his grip was not up to speed with his reflexes and the cup accidently slipped out of his hand. Its contents spilling all over the rest of his suit as her mother could only watch in stunned horror.
"What… what have you done?" her mother choked out, tears forming upon her eyes.
"Only what was necessary." Percerin said with a sad gleam in his eyes. He performed a small bow before saying "I will gladly bear any punishment for this Madame."
But the fiery anger from earlier did not reignite. Instead, her mother seemed to have withdrawn into herself and dropped down to her knees. Her hands trembling over the spilled wine.
"M… Mother?" Charlotte tried to attract her mother's attention as she hesitantly knelt down next to her. "Are you… are you okay?"
"…Charlotte." Her mother mumbled her name. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
It was this time that a group of knights pushed their way through the crowds and approached them in military step. All of them in the white regalia emblazoned with the Lily of the Sourthern Parterres. The two lead knights then split off a step in opposite directions to allow the most powerful man in all of Gallia pass. The rest of the knights spreading out to form a full circle around them, keeping them out of sight from all the crowd that had gathered.
"Uncle Joseph!" Charlotte called out as the King of Gallia walked towards them at a leisurely pace, an indifferent look upon his face. She hadn't seen her uncle in ages though he still seemed the same. A handsome face younger that his actual age, the same blue hair that was shared amongst those of royal linage. The only difference was that he now had a fluffy cape draped over his shoulders. Remembering the situation at hand, she appealed to him for aid. "Something's wrong with mother. Can you help us?"
Her uncle gave her passive look before broadly smiling. "Of course, of course. Anything for my favourite niece."
"I'm your only niece…" Charlotte dryly replied with not a drop of amusement. This wasn't the time for her uncle to try being funny.
"Your majesty!" her mother cried out in panic upon hearing her uncle's voice. The fear evident in her eyes. But why? Why would her mother be scared of her uncle? He's always been nice to them, if a bit odd in his own way. Her… her father had said that it was kingship and all its responsibilities bearing down on him.
"Now, now Anne. We're practically family now. No need to be all formal with me." Uncle Joseph said as he knelt down to meet her mother at eye level.
"This is… I…" her mother stuttered, her hands shaking all over the spilt wine. "It was…"
"Don't worry about that. Versailles has plenty of other wine." Her uncle silenced her mother with a dramatic flourish of his hand. "Of course this one was one of a kind. No other like it."
"Please your majesty. This… this was an accident! I didn't…"
"No matter how much you plead; there just isn't any second chances with this brand. It certainly won't un-spill itself." Uncle Joseph said in a… weird way that only her uncle did. With that, he picked himself back up and looked over to her. "Now, Charlotte, you should take your mother back to her room to rest a bit. Okay?"
"O… okay!" Charlotte nervously replied, off put by her mother's evident fear of her uncle. "Is… is mother in trouble?"
"No, no. Of course not. I think she's just a bit tired after all this." Uncle Joseph reassured her with several shakes of his head. Directing his gaze over to Percerin who was trying his best not to attract attention, her uncle said "Hmm… Percerin was it? It's probably going to be your last job before you're fired for this fiasco but you'd better help out. Else I'll have my guard kick you out. Literally of course."
"Yes your highness." Percerin immediately replied in a louder voice than usual, bowing as deeply as one could before the king. He then knelt down and grasped hold of her mother, gesturing for her to assist him in lifting her mother up.
"Oh and Charlotte." Joseph called out as they began to leave, mother held firmly in their arms.
"You take care now." Her uncle said, waving them farewell before quietly adding "You never know what dangers might lurk in this massive palace."
Her mother noticeably flinched in their grasp but didn't otherwise respond. Charlotte gave her mother another worried look but she just looked away, avoiding meeting her eyes. Looking over her shoulder, she waved farewell to her uncle, still smiling at them. The circle of knights opening to let them pass and the rest of the crowd mutely stepping aside.
And as they retreated back towards their apartments, Charlotte could only at what had just happened there.
And done. A lot longer than the original one I uploaded. Please review. I'm open to criticism as long as it's, you know, actual criticism. I would like to improve my work, since I know I'm far from all that great of a writer.