Note: Hey look! It's alive! Sorry I left you all hanging…ha. Been busy with another fic. I'm sorry. But my cousin made me feel bad about leaving this story like this, so here we are! Feel free to throw things at me for taking so long. (ducks)
Chapter Six: Lady Landing
As Told by the Librarian:
"Young lady, I wish you'd think next time before you decide to hop off a balcony."
I blinked my eyes open owlishly; to my surprise, I could only see in vague blots of color. Sitting up indignantly, my hands flew to my face, and to my dismay I felt no glasses upon my nose. "I can't see," I moaned.
A tall white blob came towards me, hands outstretched. I flinched as he came close, but I suppose I was just being paranoid, because soon the familiar weight of my spectacles appeared on my nose, and the world became clear.
"Better?" The man smiled at me, and immediately I recognized his white garb for what it was: a doctor's coat. In fact, I rather recognized the way his dimples showed when he smiled, and the way his mop of black hair got in his eyes, and that deep voice—
His eyebrows knitted together in puzzlement, and he crossed his arms. "Have we met?"
"B-but of course we have!" I protested. "Elli introduced us when she first started working with you. And once you started dating—"
"Do you know what you're saying?!"
His hands slammed against the side of my bed--some hospital cot, I supposed--and his once laughing expression had turned frantic, eyes wide and face tinted red. Stunned, I folded my hands in my lap, and murmured, "I'm sorry…"
"How do you even know about that?" Tim whispered, shaking his head in disbelief. "We never told anyone…do you have any idea what that could mean if someone heard you?"
"I'm sorry!" I squeaked, blushing a bright shade of red in embarrassment. "I had no idea it was so secret…I didn't mean to do anything wrong."
Strange. Back in Mineral Town, no one had objected to their dating. Rather, it was the opposite: everyone from Lillia to Ellen had fought to set them up (which was no easy feat, Manna assured me, because both of them were rather dense about matters of the heart). In fact, Gray had told me that he'd never seen the doctor so awkward as when Elli first planted a kiss on his cheek; Gray had been an unfortunate bystander placed there by the fate of his daily checkup, and had complained to me about for the duration of the season.
"No, I—I should be sorry," Tim muttered, sighing. He sat himself down in a desk chair, and continued, "I don't think you're working for the queen. If you were, then I suppose the whole castle wouldn't be turning itself inside-out looking for you. You're the witch, correct? The one who 'flew' from the tower." A smile crossed his lips. "I must say, two feet isn't a very impressive distance. Especially when the tower's only nine feet off the ground."
"Nine…feet?" I repeated. Had that really been the whole distance? But it had seemed so much higher when I jumped, so much scarier as I fell towards the ground—
Wait a moment. "Did you just say I'm a witch?"
His laugh echoed through the room. "I don't think you're a witch, miss. Though it'd be easy for me to dismiss you as one simply because you knew about my…relationship with Elli."
There it was again: that bizarre hedging of such an ordinary topic.
"Doctor…?" I cleared my throat, and he cocked an eyebrow at me. "Um, that is…I mean…why can't Claire know about you and Elli?"
I'm not sure how to describe the expression on his face when I said that: confused, sympathetic, stunned, or maybe a little bit of all three. He glanced back at the closed door once more, then towards me. "First of all, I'd like to know how you know the queen's name. Second of all, I want to know why you know her name, but have no idea why this situation is so grave."
I swallowed a lump in my throat. "…I asked first."
"Touché." He rubbed his chin in thought, giving me a quizzical glance. "I'm the queen's royal physician. As such I understand much of what goes on in this castle—more than you do, and more than those peasants outside these walls." A pause. "Have you met Elli?"
I wasn't sure how to respond to that question: yes, but in another dimension? "Maybe once," I conceded, hoping I was being vague enough.
"So you know that she's Claire's sister?"
He might as well have said that books grow on trees. Though I suppose since the paper comes from the tree, then one could say that—
My, I get off-topic easily, don't I?
"No, actually," I managed to reply.
"Well, they're step-sisters, actually," the doctor admitted. "Elli's mother and father were the previous rulers—but then, of course, the queen died and her father married another woman, one who also had a daughter from a previous marriage. That woman was Claire's mother."
I listened, engrossed to this tale coming from Tim's lips: a stepmother, a stepsister, and a forbidden love. The Brothers Grimm would have been pleased.
"At the time, there were three heirs to the throne: the crown prince, Elli, and Claire. An accident in the royal carriage killed the good king and queen, and the prince disappeared. From the position of the wreck, it'd be safe to say he fell into the ravine below. At any rate, that was all a long time ago, and ever since, Claire has ruled."
"But why?" I persisted. "Shouldn't Elli--?"
"That's just it. Elli should have been ruler." He looked away from me, eyes narrowing. "Claire was older than Elli, and she was an adult. She used that claim to gain the throne, saying she had more experience. Elli had complete blood rights, however, so Claire did one more thing to ensure her of the throne: she got engaged."
I raised an eyebrow. "Engaged?"
"If she were the first to marry—and she married a handsome, well-liked, sufficient prince—then that would make her rule more valid and more acceptable. If Elli wasn't married, and Claire was, then that would basically gift-wrap the throne for her." Another pause. "There has yet to be a single queen to reign our kingdom without a king by her side."
"So that's why you won't say anything?" I whispered. "Because Claire--?"
"Will feel threatened. Exactly." He cradled his head in his hands and groaned. "Princess Elli isn't even interested in taking the throne. She's far too content, saying she's lucky that her sister even lets her work by my side as a nurse. She's such a sweet, intelligent girl—it's such a shame. Out of the two of them, I'd say that the better queen would be…well. I'd think it would be obvious."
I nodded in agreement. Claire may enjoy bossing others around, but when it came to understanding those around her, she left something to be desired. Someone like Elli who enjoyed helping others, who struggled to solve others' problems, would be a far better queen than someone self-seeking like Claire.
Though I guess Tim and I both had our biases for thinking this way. The way she treated Gray doesn't exactly help her case for me any.
"M-me?" I stammered.
"What's your story? I think I deserve to know, since I've kept you hidden here from the guards," Tim accused, staring at me thoughtfully. "Are you from another land?"
What was the heroine supposed to do in this situation? Wasn't this the part where I came up with a magnificent lie, masterfully told and spellbinding those who heard it? I'd read all the books. I could do this. I knew I could.
"I'm sorry, I didn't even mean to come here, but this witch felt bad for me because I was lonely, and zapped me here in the castle, but where I'm from there's another Doctor Tim and another Elli, and everything's nice and normal there, but I'm just a librarian, and I'm sorry but I really have no idea what's going on, and I really wish I'd never told the harvest sprite that I was lonely, because everything is becoming such an awful mess and I'm so confused and—"
"Sounds like you hit your head a little harder than I thought," the doctor whistled.
Well, my lie hadn't exactly been a lie, but at least Doctor Tim wasn't asking any more questions. He scratched his head, then decided, "Tell you what. I'm going to get you out of here."
The obvious question to that was how was he going to do it, but I kept my mouth shut and let him continue.
"There's a man whose wagon comes once a week to the castle—the queen is an avid patron of his business, and he should be here at the castle as we speak," the doctor explained. "In about an hour, he'll be leaving—and if I talk to him, I'm certain he'll help you escape. You can hide in the back, under the blankets. He'll take you straight to the village, and I'm sure you'll figure out what to do from there. Any place is safer than the castle at this moment."
"Th-thank you," I whispered, a little shocked by my luck. This truly was a fairytale; how often did fate arrange things in such a serendipitous fashion? "Um, so who is it that will be helping me--?"
"He's a blacksmith," Tim answered. "His name's Gray. Do you know him?"
How often were things so serendipitous, indeed?