Out of Sight, Out of Mind
I've lived a selfish life. After losing Rose, I thought I was entitled to it – if the world didn't give a damn about us, why should I give a damn about it?
Queen Sophie clutched the book in her hand, tearing her gaze from it so that she could take in the room properly. Over twenty years she had lived in this castle. She thought she knew every corridor like the scars on her skin. And yet only today she had discovered this room.
After Logan's trial, she couldn't bear to have the huge portrait of their family hanging on the wall of her bedroom. It had always been comforting when she was younger, to wander up to her parents' room and look at the painting of the four of them in the garden. She remembered the joy that had been there, before each one departed from her life. If things had been different, she might still feel that way about the picture. However, all it reminded her of now, was that she had executed her brother for the sake of the people, and that her parents were long gone and had no advice.
Removing the painting was supposed to ease her mind, but instead, she had discovered a keyhole in the wall. Further inspection revealed that the section of wall behind the painting was in fact a door, panelled over to hide it from view – despite the fact that the portrait already covered it completely. Sophie had thought that whoever had fitted the door clearly wanted it well hidden. Had her parents used it?
The curiosity overcame her, and she pulled out her pistol, shooting the lock off with the lack-of-subtlety that Jasper would raise an eyebrow at.
The door tore open, and Sophie made her way inside the hidden chamber, down a short flight of stairs that led to a windowless room. She summoned a little fire, lighting the candlesticks that were attached to the walls. One of them she took for herself, so that she could inspect the room's contents more closely.
It seemed like an ordinary room, a dusty sofa sitting in front of a small fireplace, a few chests of drawers and boxes dotted about. But nothing in the room belonged to them, of that she was sure.
Sophie opened the wardrobe, which creaked loudly from age. No one had used this room in years. Inside were old garments, a few belonging to a man and many belonging to children. They were of some fashion long-past, and she didn't know whose they were. Perhaps her parents had stored relics of their childhood here?
She opened some of the chests, finding more personal effects – dried flowers, perfume bottles, children's toys. A moth-eaten teddy bear stared at her from atop the sofa. Some of the items didn't seem to have any relevance – a pillow, a blanket, an old mug, a dog's collar. There was even a bottle full of dirt. She wasn't sure why someone would keep these things.
There had to be some explanation of the room and its contents in here. No one else would know – the room was covered in dust and clearly abandoned. One or both of her parents must have kept it – but why was it secret? It was their castle.
Pulling open a desk drawer, Sophie gathered a mess of papers and books and spread them onto the carpet in front of the sofa. She settled herself amidst them and lit the fire so that the light would aid her.
The first item she noticed was a photograph of two girls. The older one, a teenager, was pulling an elegant pose and pouting at the camera. The younger meanwhile had her thumb turned down and was scowling fiercely. Sophie recognised the young girl's face as that of her mother. The expression didn't fit the woman she had known. Her mother had been very patient and rarely angry. It was hard to imagine her as a naughty child. That must mean that the other girl was Rose, Sophie's aunt. Her mum had rarely talked about Rose, or in fact anything from her youth. When she was a child, she had found it hard to imagine how horrible it must have been for her mother to lose her sister. These days, Sophie found it much easier to empathise.
She flipped the photograph over, but there was no explanation, just a small print at the bottom reading 'Barnum's Enterprises'.
Setting the photo down, Sophie picked up several sheets of paper that had been folded together. They were very delicate and care-worn, so she unfolded them carefully and read the first sheet. It was covered in a childish scrawl, and seemed to have been written with charcoal, smeared over the years.
I managed to find a nice piece of charcoal this morning, so I can finally start writing again. I still haven't finished putting down the story about the warrior girl who fights snow monsters. Sparrow always likes listening to that one - sends him right to sleep! It's not so easy for me. Winter is getting colder and soon our shelter won't be anywhere near enough. We'll freeze to death if we don't find something better. And the family of travellers who let us stay in their caravan last winter haven't come back this year. It was nice having someone to look after us for a change. If only we could find some secret passage into the castle... We're small enough that no one would notice us. We'd be like ghosts, or like mice, hiding in the walls. We'd tip-toe out when everyone goes to bed and raid the larder. I bet they have so much food in there, they'd never even notice. Bah, day-dreaming isn't going to get us anywhere. You have to think of something, Rose. You're the big sister, remember?
Sophie glanced again at the photograph. This must have been the recordings of Rose during their childhood in Bowerstone's Old Quarter. Her heart squeezed as she read through it again. It was hard to believe that at one time, her mother had been a little child, entertained by stories of adventure, just like she had been. But their lives couldn't have been more different. Whilst Sophie's early life had been in the comfort of family and friends, living in the luxury of the castle, Sparrow had spent her childhood starving on the streets, Rose struggling to feed the both of them and telling stories to distract her little sister from the miserable reality. Sophie knew little of her mother's life in the gypsy camp, and even less of it before then, but it had always seemed distant – as much a story as Walter's tales of her mother's Heroic nature.
Carefully removing the last page, so as not to damage the other pages, Sophie opened it out and read through.
I wish I hadn't believed that old woman. She said that the music box was magic and I believed her, I really did. We spent the whole day scraping together enough gold to pay for it. When we finally got it, I wished so hard that we could live there – Lord Lucien would somehow notice us down here in Old Town and we'd spend the rest of our days with as much food as we can eat and a warm fire. Enough dreaming, Rose. If we managed to get some gold today, then I can do the same tomorrow. There's always jobs what need doing. At least we've got this dog with us – he can keep Sparrow safe while I go find some money in the morning. She knows where to hide, if Arfur comes sniffing around. I'll never work for that creep. The moment I do, he'll want to get Sparrow working too. I'd die before I let her suffer like that.
The anger and frustration in the final entry surprised Sophie. The music box... could it be the same one that she had found in the reliquary beneath Brightwall Academy? If this was the final entry, was it because Rose was murdered shortly afterwards? She was surprised that her mother kept the music box, if it had brought her and Rose so much disappointment, and yet it had been important enough to keep there as a treasure. Despite the tragedy that had befallen Sparrow and Rose, Sophie couldn't help but feel a little jealous when she read the entry. It was clear that Rose had loved her sister intensely and was very protective. If Logan had ever felt like that about her, she didn't know it and she never would.
The personal items that belonged to Rose didn't explain the rest of the room, however. Sparrow and her sister had certainly never owned all those clothes or toys as children, nor any of the other items.
Sophie sifted through the other documents to try and find something more revealing. She leafed through a few letters from Hammer and Garth – other Heroes that her mother had travelled with. The ones from Hammer seemed quite chatty, continuing for a few pages about her life in a monk order, but offering little insight into Sparrow's life. Garth's seemed more like research notes than anything else, though there were traces of humour where he had commented on the irritating travelling companion who was dogging his return home.
As she shuffled a few more papers around, something small and hard tumbled from between the pages of a thick book. Picking it up, she realised that it was a ring – a wedding ring, to be specific. Sophie ran the band between her fingers, but there was no engraving to be seen. It must have been her father's, as he died a couple of years before her mother.
Sophie nestled the book into her lap, opening it. This one didn't seem to have been handled half as much as the other papers. Her guess that it was her mother's proved true when she recognised the old Queen's handwriting. She decided read, curious to the insight it could offer into her mother's mind.
I've lived a selfish life. After losing Rose, I thought I was entitled to it – if the world didn't give a damn about us, why should I give a damn about it?
More people have died by my hand than I care to count. Mostly it was for money, but sometimes it was just pure spite. People think that they can tell me what to do, that they can judge me. I spent over ten years trying to stop Lucien and save their miserable skins, but all they did was whine. I've stolen enough to decorate a castle. When I was young, it was because I was hungry, but lately I can't use that excuse. My winnings from the Crucible alone would've tided me and Rose over for years. I even sold people into slavery on a couple of occasions. Harder, that was, because you have to walk away listening to them beg. It's easier to kill them.
Locked up in the Spire, I didn't care about those poor buggers. I wasn't going to end up some mindless automaton, precious memories stripped away. If a few people have to be starved, tortured or executed, what did it matter? If I didn't do it, someone else would, and at least I tried to kill them quickly. All I cared about was saving my own neck. And Garth's – but he just happened to be a useful pawn that'd help us kill Lucien. Didn't occur to me until after it all that I was a pawn too. The fact that I haven't seen Theresa since she took the Spire seems proof enough of that.
Escaping the Spire certainly didn't give me some new-found respect for life. Hammer seemed to think it would do. I think she was a little disappointed when I came back the same heartless cow I was going in. Maybe it's because she was raised by a monk, I don't know, but she always seemed to think we should be selfless, merciful and so on. Always sounded ironically weak for a Hero of Strength to be saying that. Reaver didn't appall me half as much as he seemed to Hammer. Maybe he had his reasons. Doesn't mean I wouldn't have shot him in the face if given a chance. He betrayed me no less than three times. Not that it changed anything. I sacrificed that girl to the Shadow Court. Why should I give up my youth for some daft bint, when I'm the one saving the world? That's what I thought. She just had rotten luck.
Lucien said, right before he shot me the second time, that killing me and Rose had tore his heart out. I don't know why that bastard did what he did, but he didn't have any idea about that night. Forget his bloody heart – it was my sister who he murdered, my whole life crushed under the weight of his ego. The first time, the only thing that mattered to me was torn away, and I was indifferent to the world and the idiots who inhabited it. But the second time...
Sophie clutched the book in her hands, frozen in position. She didn't know if she wanted to read on. Her mother had a reputation for being wild in her youth, this much had always been apparent, but her complete disregard towards life, the weird humour with which she regarded her own callousness... it was completely ill-fitting with how she had seemed later in life. Sophie always remembered her mother's bravery and wisdom and kindness. Sometimes she seemed rather melancholy, though it had hardly been surprising given the adventure her life had been. One smile from her husband or children, however, and she would brighten instantly. How had she been so different before? Sophie had thought Logan was a tyrant, but this was something else entirely.
She wondered if her brother had known about this room. He couldn't have done – it was coated in the dust of decades. Part of her wished he was with her, reading this too. It seemed too much for her to soak in alone, but she couldn't go find the others. Walter and Jasper would be heartbroken to see Sparrow fall from the pedestal Sophie had put her on.
There was no point putting it away and pretending she hadn't found it – she was in deep now and might as well read through to the end. She had to know how it finished.
The second time hurt so much more. When I first met that ghost in Rookridge, and it told me to seduce the lover that jilted it and then break his heart, I thought that I might spend the reward on a new gun, seeing as my old one was somewhat rusty. Meeting Alex didn't change my initial outlook much either. He was handsome in a scruffy way, but a bit depressing. I was supposed convince him to marry me and then jilt him – vengeance for the daft cow that committed suicide over him. At first, it mostly got on my nerves – how he wanted to hold my hand and go for a walk by the river, how he'd give me flowers or kiss me beneath the clock tower. Strange sentimental gestures meant nothing to me, they were easy to give. They didn't hold weight when circumstances grew harsh.
It was strangely innocent, compared to how the rest of my life had been. It was like Alex'd been born in one of those stories Rose told when I was a kid – where men were chivalrous and noble, not slime who wanted to use you. He seemed so genuine, so persistent, that I found myself amused by him. Liking him. When the time came for me to marry him, I... I went through with it. Sometimes I still wonder why – maybe it would've been better if I still didn't care now.
A year or so later, and I was pregnant. I insisted on naming her Rose. It seemed fitting. This was a Rose I could protect. No one would take her from me, my precious little girl.
Trapped in the Spire for ten years, I didn't forget about them. The other guards put up a struggle and lost all memory of their loved ones. Mine became a distant dream, but they were still there. If I closed my eyes, I could see them, even if they faded to shadows with each year. I remember telling Garth what I remembered of them as we sailed back to the mainland. He said it would help me regain some sense of self if I tried to recall everything that mattered to me. Not that he did the same.
Despite everything Alex had heard, all the rumours that were mostly true, he waited for me. The sod. Would I have done the same for him, or would I have been in bed with a barmaid the next day? I had trouble readjusting after the Spire, but he was so patient. It hurt him, but he still kept going. Oh, and my little Rose. She was only a baby when I left, but when I returned, I could see my sister standing there. She was the spit of Rose, just as clever and confident as I remember. My little Rose didn't remember me. I had to make up for lost time, so she would love me just as much as her dad.
The thing is, since Rose died, I hadn't cared much about anyone. The closest friendship I had was with my dog. Theresa was my guardian, but she'd never really been like a mother to me – although all I knew about motherhood was based on Rose's stories, so maybe I just had an idealistic view the whole time. Maybe Theresa's coldness was what it was like in the real world. Alex and little Rose, they were a different story. Killing Lucien wasn't just about revenge for my sister, it was about protecting them.
When Lucien told me he'd murdered them, it felt like I was a child again. All these years, I'd thought I was making myself stronger – the people I killed died because they hadn't learned that lesson. They hadn't learned how to toughen themselves against the world. But I failed – I lost my little Rose, and I lost the man who was my best friend and true supporter.
Theresa offered me a choice once I'd killed Lucien. The Spire was in her control, and she would grant me one wish. I remember when I was a child, and she said the music box would grant the wish of Rose and me. We got that wish – a twisted version of it. We went to the castle, and we died there too.
I had the choice of money – which would have truly tempted me, once. Or, I could choose to return to life all those who had died in the Spire's making – thousands of people. Lastly, I could return to life only my family – my husband, my beautiful girl, my sister, and my faithful dog.
I didn't pick my family.
Why? I've lived a selfish life. After losing Rose, I thought I was entitled to it – if the world didn't give a damn about us, why should I give a damn about it? Now I'd lost my husband and daughter. Even my dog, who sacrificed his life to try and save me. If I returned them, it was because I wanted them – I needed them. It would've another selfish act to add to the pile. I was the one who failed to protect them, and they shouldn't have to bear the guilt for the thousands who would remain dead in order to return my family to me. They weren't selfish people. And those who had lost their families to the Spire hadn't failed to protect them. They hadn't stood a chance without a Hero. Things might have been different if I was different.
That's why I chose to resurrect the thousands that had died for Lucien's ambitions. My family deserved the peace that I couldn't ensure for them. The world was cruel, and people like me just ensured it stayed that way. I would make a better one. That was what Heroes were supposed to do.
Hammer was surprised that I was capable of such a noble act, apparently. Garth seemed to gain a certain amount of respect for me too. I don't know what Theresa thought, she's never really been a person to me – more like a force of nature. Reaver didn't care, obviously. If I had stayed the same, I'd probably have ended up just like him.
Maybe one day, I'll have a second chance. I'll be worthy of having a loving family, and I'll be able to keep them safe from all the evil out there. But I have a lot of changing to do before that ever happens. And if I ever start to forget, I've got this to remind me. Garth was right, it's important to keep the memories alive, to remind you of who you are. I will be a Hero and I will be worth my family's love. That's not who I am, but it's who I will be.
Sophie pushed the book out of her lap, and heaved herself up onto the sofa beside the bear, folding her legs beneath her. She pressed her fist against her mouth, trying to hold back the emotion, but the tears came anyway. A fire flickered comfortingly, but she just felt cold.
Her mother was a stranger in those pages. All her life, Sophie had felt close to her mother, even after she died. And after discovering that she was a Hero too, it had just strengthened that connection, but in truth she had known nothing at all. She knew much of the old Hero Queen, but little of the young Hero of Bowerstone. They were like two different people. The young Sparrow wouldn't have cared about the hard decisions that Sophie had been confronted with since being crowned, she would've probably approved every one of Reaver's schemes – from enslaving the Aurorans to turning an orphanage into a whorehouse. But Queen Sparrow would have balked at Reaver's suggestions. She would have tried her hardest to protect Albion, but she wouldn't have sacrificed their happiness to do it. Which one of them was truly her mother?
She wished that Hammer and Garth were still alive, so that she could have asked them. Reaver was no reliable source and Theresa... would she be honest, if asked? She had kept things from Sophie – like the truth about Crawler, for a start. Maybe Theresa would only tell her what she wanted to hear, in order to keep her focussed.
It all changed because Lucien Fairfax had killed her mother's family. Her other family. How often had her mother come down here to think about them and immerse herself in the memories? Did she love them more? There had been a daughter before Sophie – one named for Sparrow's sister, no less – whilst she and Logan had come long after. The death of her first husband and daughter had affected Sparrow so profoundly she had become the person Sophie knew as mother. Her mother had carried the weight of this for so many years. Sophie wondered if her father knew about the first family. If so, he had never shared the information with his children. Did Walter and Jasper know?
Sophie and Logan had been their mother's second chance. Sparrow wanted to protect them, and look how it had all turned out. For the second time in a long time, Sophie wished that her brother was alive. She didn't want to be confronting all of these memories alone. And she didn't want her mother's second chance to have been wasted.
It was all wrong. Sophie scrubbed her face, trying to stop herself from crying.
The information was too much to bear, she was drowning in it. This room was full of ghosts. It contained the memories of a woman who had lost her family long ago and that woman had died when they did. Sophie's mother was born on that day.
She made a decision. Gathering up the book that contained a long account of her mother's life, Sophie threw it into the fire place. She watched with a bitter satisfaction as the pages snarled up, turning to black ash. Before long, she would be the only one who knew the memories it had revealed.
Sophie collected the photograph of her mother and aunt, as well as the pages written by Rose and the letters from the other two Heroes. These things belonged to her mother, the one she loved.
Without another glance at the room, she doused all the flames and ascended the stairs. She would refit the door and seal it up. Then she would place a different portrait over the entrance – one that didn't remind her of her lost family, nor of her mother's first family. Garth had been wrong, some memories were best left buried.