This is a rather strange little story that took over my brain and insisted that I write it down. It's far too quiet (pun intended) for a proper Slayers story, but I hope you will enjoy it anyway. It's loosely inspired by the fairytale about the princess whose seven brothers were turned into swans.
Disclaimer: Obviously I am merely a fanfiction writer with no more ownership of these characters than anyone else who posts here.
Seven Years of Silence
"Have you seen my daughter?" Prince Philionel asked earnestly.
"Amelia? No, actually I came here to see her. I needed to visit one of the temples in town so I thought it would be polite...She isn't here?" Zelgadis said in surprise.
He was feeling more than a little off-balance. He had just intended to briefly stop by to say hello to his old friend and then be on his way, but a servant had whisked him directly to the crown prince's personal chambers as soon as he had walked up to the palace gates. He was more disconcerted than honoured by the attention.
"No, she isn't here," Prince Phil said heavily. "I sent her off to go fight for justice. It's good for a girl to get some fresh air once in a while instead of being cooped up in the castle all the time! I figured a few weeks of freedom and she'd be ready to settle down to her work again, but then I got this." He handed Zelgadis a letter.
The seal was already broken. When Zelgadis unfolded it, he saw that it was in Amelia's handwriting. It said
I hope you are happy and well. I've come across a task I must pursue for the sake of justice. It may be a very long time before you hear from me again so please don't worry.
Lots of love,
"That came almost three months ago." Prince Phil rubbed a hand over his face. "I've sent people to look for her. Discretely, and then not-so-discretely. No one could find a trace of her. I was hoping you'd heard something."
Zelgadis shook his head. "She doesn't give any details at all in this letter, does she?"
"You can see why I'm worried."
Zelgadis frowned, now feeling a bit worried himself. "She's a tough fighter. She can probably handle anything she comes across."
"Still, would you keep an eye out for her in your travels? I can make that an official commission if you want."
"I'll make finding her my top priority after finding my cure."
It was several more months before Zelgadis found any clue to Amelia's whereabouts and then it was only by chance. He took a wrong turn somewhere in between a supposed demon artifact, which turned out to be nothing more than a magicless old jar, and the rumoured location of an ancient ruin. He had completely run out of food and come to the conclusion that his map wasn't worth the paper it was printed on when the dirt road he was on finally ended in a small town. It was nothing more than a farming village truly in the middle of nowhere, which meant that he would be lucky if the inhabitants didn't take one look at his freakish appearance and chase him out of town with pitchforks, but he didn't have a lot of other options at the moment.
Fortunately, the man at the general goods store only stared at his hooded and masked customer warily before leaning over the map to point out the road Zelgadis should have taken. He also gave Zel directions to the baker, the butcher and some farmers who were likely to have spare vegetables to sell.
Before leaving, Zelgadis pulled a small portrait from his pocket. It showed a girl dressed in white grinning hugely and holding up her fingers in a triumphant 'V'. "Have you seen this girl?" he asked, as he had asked so many times before.
"Why, that looks like our silent maiden!" the shopkeeper exclaimed.
"'Silent maiden'? That doesn't sound like Amelia," Zelgadis said, but he decided to follow up the lead anyway. Even false positives were rare. "Who is this 'silent maiden' and where can I find her?"
"She walked into town last summer and took over the abandoned house up in the hills above the town." He leaned out the door and pointed up the road. "It's rare enough for any new people to move here but there's something really strange about that girl. In all the time she's been here, she's never said a word. We don't know her name so we just call her 'the silent maiden'."
Even if this turned out to have nothing to do with Amelia, it was definitely odd enough to be worth investigating. Zelgadis was always on the look out for odd things because they might be connected to hidden powers and those hidden powers might help him find a way to make himself fully human again instead of the part-golem, part-demon freak he had become. He decided to postpone looking for food in favour of looking for the house the man had described.
There was only one road in town, which made it hard to take any wrong turns. After he passed the last shop the road gradually narrowed to a mere path but continued up the hill. After a steep climb, Zelgadis rose above a grove of trees and found himself faced with a sheer rock wall about ten feet high. Right where the path met the rock wall there was a cheerfully painted red door and on either side of it there were two large windows framed by open shutters. It was a house carved right into the hillside.
Zelgadis knocked loudly on the door. When there wasn't an immediate answer, he knocked again and then turned to look back the way he'd come. The view over the town and and surrounding fields was spectacular (or at least as spectacular as such a small town could provide). He turned back when he heard a distant door open and close followed by footsteps inside, and then the red door opened.
"Amelia!" he gasped.
Sure enough, there was the missing princess of Seyruun wearing a very plain, rather muddy dress and looking as astonished as he felt. Her bare feet were covered with mud too and she even had a streak of dirt on her face. He saw the first syllable of his name form silently on her lips before she clamped a hand guiltily over her mouth.
"I've been looking everywhere for you and...you're here? What are you doing here in the middle of nowhere?"
With a delighted smile, Amelia stepped back and waved him inside.
He followed her through a stone-walled and stone-floored room, up a few steps and out a back door into a garden. The garden was sheltered on three sides by the same rock wall the house had been carved into although the wall was shallower from this side. On the open end, it continued up the hill until it faded into trees.
Amelia gestured proudly at the rows of vegetables ripening in the sun. There were dozens of scattered beds filled with different types of flowers and vegetables covering the lower part of the hillside with a row of spindly baby trees toward the back. None of the perennial plants showed more than a year's growth. She picked a ripe tomato off one of the nearby plants and handed it to him.
"I've been searching the world for you, your father has been worried sick, and all this time you've been here growing vegetables?" Zelgadis asked in disbelief.
Amelia frowned and made a writing gesture with one finger on the other hand.
"Yes, you sent a letter but that was months ago and you didn't explain anything in it!"
Amelia bit her lip and looked away regretfully.
"Tell me now. What's going on?" Zelgadis demanded in exasperation.
Amelia shook her head.
"So what that man in town said was true? You can't talk?"
Amelia touched the necklace fastened tightly around her neck. It wasn't her usual one with the magic amplifying gem. In fact, she wasn't wearing any of her usual magical gear. Zelgadis leaned close to study the necklace.
"That's the symbol for silence. It prevents you from speaking?"
"Then you're under an enchantment? How can I free you?" Zelgadis asked urgently.
Amelia shook her head. She unfastened the necklace, showed off her bare neck, and then put the necklace back on.
"You're wearing it by choice? But, why?"
Amelia put a hand over her heart and held up the other hand as if taking an oath and then touched her lips.
"A vow of silence?"
Amelia looked impressed that he'd gotten that one. She nodded.
"That still doesn't explain why."
She just looked back at him with an expression that gave nothing away.
"You...won't tell me?"
Amelia shook her head firmly. Then she ran over to a patch of strawberries and started searching under the leaves for ripe ones to give him.
"Is this a religious thing?"
No answer other than a couple strawberries.
"Is this some kind of spell?"
She moved on to the raspberries.
"Did you just get tired of royal paperwork and decide you'd rather live as a silent gardener hermit?"
That at least got an amused glare out of her in addition to a fistful of berries.
"Thank you for the food. I am very hungry," Zelgadis admitted, giving up on the fruitless (or, from another perspective, overly fruitful) line of questioning.
Amelia pointed to him and then rubbed her belly inquiringly.
"Yes, I haven't eaten since yesterday."
After a disapproving glance, Amelia waved him to follow her back into the house, stopping on the way to wash her hands and face in a bucket of water on the rim of the well. Inside, she produced a bowl of salad and shoved it imperiously into his hands. Then she pointed to the low table occupying the other end of the room. Zelgadis obediently carried his lunch over to the table and started eating. Amelia busied herself in the kitchen end of the room and after a few minutes brought him a thick sandwich loaded with vegetables and meat.
"This is delicious!" he said, because it was.
Amelia glowed with pride.
While Zelgadis was eating, Amelia vanished into one of the rooms that opened off the main room and emerged a few minutes later wearing a clean dress. She had also washed off her feet at some point and put on shoes and socks.
"Your father is going to be so relieved to know where you are. He keeps tracking me down to ask for progress reports on my search for you," Zel commented.
Amelia looked alarmed and shook her head fiercely.
"What do you mean 'no'?"
Amelia put a finger to her lips in the gesture for "shhh".
"You don't want me to tell him where you are? Why not?"
Amelia turned sideways and hunched her shoulders slightly to create the impression of looming massively and threw out her arms wide as if to embrace the air. Then she dropped the looming pose, turned to face the opposite direction and thew out her arms again, looking upward. Then back to the first side and pose she opened her arms again but this time with a worried expression. Back to the second side, she put a hand over her mouth and cast her eyes downward regretfully. Back to the first side, pleading gestures followed by fists rubbing at imaginary tears. Back on the second side, she tore at her collar and flung out her arm as if throwing it away and then patted the air consolingly before turning her face to the side and wiping away an imaginary tear. Then she straightened up and gave Zelgadis a hopeful look fading almost immediately into frustrated despair.
"No, I think I got the gist of that," he said quickly. "You don't want your father to come here because you wouldn't be able to keep your vow of silence?"
Amelia's face lit up with delight.
"I've always been good at charades," Zelgadis said modestly, "and it helps that I've met your father. Can I at least tell him that I've found you and you're safe?"
Amelia nodded enthusiastic agreement to that.
"Can I tell Lina and Gourry where you are?"
Amelia shook her head firmly again. She leaned over the table and mimed wild eating, then ran to the kitchen and put her hands to her cheeks in an exaggerated gesture of alarm, then opened the door to the garden and made her gesture of alarm again.
Zelgadis couldn't help smiling at that. "Yes, I suppose they would eat you out of house and home."
Amelia went through the gestures for the fireball spell.
"...and possibly blow up the town. Okay, I see your point there."
Amelia smirked nostalgically.
"I hesitate to ask this, but can I come back to see you again?"
Amelia frowned and bit her lip thoughtfully, clearly torn between conflicting impulses. After several seconds she slowly nodded. Then she put her finger to her lips.
"I can stay if I'm quiet? Do you mean I have to respect your vow of silence or that I have to keep quiet about visiting you?"
She nodded again and held up a little finger.
Zelgadis gave her a confused look.
Amelia grabbed his hand, pulled up his little finger and wrapped hers around it.
"You want me to pinky-swear? What are we, children?"
Amelia stomped her foot.
Zelgadis sighed. "Fine. I promise not to tell anyone the location of this village until you give me permission to."
She nodded, satisfied, and unlinked her pinky from his.
Once he finished eating, Amelia wiped the crumbs off the table like a good little housekeeper, picked up a large basket and waved for Zelgadis to follow her out the front door.
"We're going down to the town? Why?" he asked as they descended the path.
Amelia waved her basket and rolled her eyes.
"Picking flowers?" he guessed.
Amelia ignored him and entered the bakery.
"Good afternoon, miss," the baker said with a smile. Then she saw the not-exactly-a-man following Amelia and the smile fell off her face.
Zelgadis flinched. Amelia smiled at them both reassuringly and pointed to a pie on the counter.
"Oh, you're getting food for supper," Zelgadis finally realized.
Amelia smiled agreement and pulled out her furry purse.
Zelgadis grabbed it from her and weighed it in his hand. "This is nearly empty." His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Don't tell me that you been living for the better part of a year off the money you happened to be carrying when you came up with the hare-brained idea to take a vow of silence?"
Amelia looked annoyed and guilty.
"And the people here don't know your name? You really didn't plan this very well, did you?"
Amelia snatched her purse back indignantly and glared at him. When she tried again to reach into her purse for money, he forestalled her. "I'll pay for supper tonight and I'll loan you enough money to get by until my next visit. You can pay me back later."
Amelia reluctantly nodded, torn between resentment and gratitude.
"So you're...a friend of hers?" the baker managed with an attempt at a friendly smile, still more than a little uneasy faced with such a strange stranger.
Zelgadis gratefully took advantage of the overture. "My name is Zelgadis. Hers, since she won't tell you, is Amelia Wil-" A grip on his arm stopped him. Amelia held up a hand in a 'halt' gesture and shook her head. Zelgadis raised his brows at her. Really? Amelia looked back at him stubbornly. Zelgadis shrugged acquiescence. "Her name is Amelia."
The baker's smile warmed. "That's good to know. Welcome to Shaid, Mr. Zelgadis."
"I have good news and bad news," Zelgadis said without preamble when he was ushered in to see Prince Philonel. "The good news is that I've found Amelia."
The prince gave a loud shout of excitement and sagged in his chair in relief.
"The bad news is that she's sworn me to secrecy about her location. I can tell you though that she appears to be in good health and good spirits."
"What has she been doing all this time?"
"Gardening, as far as I can tell."
"What?" The prince looked deeply puzzled by this response.
"She won't tell me what she's really doing. Whatever it is, though, it requires a vow of silence."
"You mean, she can't tell you what she's doing because she's sworn not to?"
"No, I mean she refuses to speak at all. To anyone. About anything. She won't even write." He pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Prince Phil. "This the list of things she asked me to bring her the next time I visit."
"It's all pictures!"
It started with a picture of her fuzzy purse with circles beside it representing coins. Below that there was a picture of books with smaller pictures to the side illustrating preferred genres. The last line consisted of oblong shapes and dots followed by an assortment of plants and flowers. There were labels next to the plants and flowers identifying them.
"There are words at the bottom here," Prince Phil pointed out.
"I wrote those in when I got Amelia to clarify what types of seeds she wanted." He spread his hands helplessly. "She refuses to communicate in anything other than pantomime and pictures. She refuses to leave the town. She refuses to give any indication whatsoever what she's up to. Whatever it is, though, it must be important to her."
"Do you have any idea at all why she's doing all this?"
"My best guess is that she's trying to break a curse the hard way."
Amelia's father frowned in concern. "What do you mean?"
"You see it in folk tales sometimes: someone (usually a maiden) having to perform some terrible, tedious task in order to break an enchantment. It's a very old form of magic. It doesn't even require magical training, just a lot of determination."
"You think my daughter is under an enchantment?" Prince Phil asked in alarm.
"No. I think she's trying to free someone else from one. But I have no idea who. You know how Amelia is. She would do it for a complete stranger if she felt their cause was just."
"My little Amelia has such a noble heart!" Prince Phil was moved to tears.
Zelgadis coughed uncomfortably. "In any case, she's agreed to let me keep visiting her even though she won't allow me to tell anyone else where she is so if you want to send her a letter or anything else - anything that I can fit in a pocket - I'll carry it to Amelia for you."
Prince Phil came to a decision. "If that's what my little girl wants then I'll respect her wishes. It seems I will have to depend on you, Mr. Zelgadis, to serve as the intermediary between my daughter and me. You have my heart-felt thanks for looking after her once again."
Rather overwhelmed by the prince's naked display of emotion, Zelgadis merely nodded.
"Should we count this as another escort job?"
Zelgadis waved the offer away. "I'll accept the reward for finding her, but I don't need any payment to keep visiting her beyond our standing deal that you give me access to all Seyruun's libraries and temples and pass on any information you come across that might lead to my cure."
"Are you sure?"
"If you were paying me too much I would feel obligated to look after her full time. This way I can keep focused on searching for my cure, visit her when I feel like it, and report in to you when my search leads me to Seyruun."
Prince Phil frowned at his coldness, but accepted the deal.