The ensuing third day after victory at the castle, d’Gravernaugh had visited the princess at the garrison. His visit was solely to arrange with her the time of the king’s funeral ceremony, this had been mutually agreed to best occur in four days’ time – one whole week after the castle was safely back in the hands of southern Gillion. Another three-hundred mounted guards in between that time would be extracted from the garrison and relocated to take up permanent residency at the castle creating an army consisting of five-hundred men; d’Gravernaugh was leaving nothing to chance. On the day of the funeral the royal carriage would be taken to Marshtop so that the princess could travel and return to her castle with the dignity and comfort befitting a royal personage such as herself. The carriage would have two-hundred mounted guards led by d’Gravernaugh himself for secure entourage. An embalmist from the nearest town had been employed to prepare the king’s body and make it presentable enough to view, this had been accomplished on the fifth day leaving just the task of notifying all dignitaries from every town of the date for the funeral itself. With all arrangements in place, the stage had been set to honour and say farewell to the late king Mestian.
* * *
Mirvanda looked like a completely different woman than the one who had walked into her room a short while ago. Gone were the plain, dreary, uncomplimentary clothes that, for the past twenty years of her secluded, reclusive life working as a humble serving woman at the garrison, had by title alone so required her to wear. The transformation for anyone seeing her dressed in the fine raiment she now wore, would be both startling and utterly spellbinding. The full length, black, velvety dress with pleated skirt hung from her shoulders then fanned out as it gracefully draped to the floor giving her an elegant regal appearance. Her long auburn hair had now been untied allowing it to flow naturally and freely contouring her soft kind face and gently resting upon her petite shoulders then falling, coming to rest at the middle of her back and around her modestly exposed cleavage. She shone with a radiant, irresistible beauty, enough to turn any man’s head. Her new overall look, strongly suggestive of a awakening, a coming out, a mythological phoenix rising – reborn from the ashes of a previously mundane existence to live life anew. For on this day, Mirvanda Duncante would be leaving her imprisoned life at the garrison, gladly turning her back on it forever.
However, amid her own excitement over finally leaving the garrison, Mirvanda seemed preoccupied, lost in a swirling misty thought from another time. She stood in the centre of her bed chamber holding a hand up to her mouth looking to every corner of her room suggesting that she had forgotten or lost something, forgotten something valuable, something she couldn’t bear to leave behind.
Two big leather carrying cases stood on the floor next to her feet, she looked down at them doubtfully, she was sure that she hadn’t already come across it and packed it away while accidently not noticing that she had. Worry now began festering in her mind. Such a little thing that, to anyone else would be a throw away object but to Mirvanda, of all the trinkets or keepsakes she possessed this one keepsake totally embodied the past, a past where hope, happiness, and an unbridled love played a significant part in her younger life, and contained within it, a treasured, betrothed promise for the future. It was beyond precious, it represented everything. If only the forgotten place where she had once hidden it for safekeeping would surface in her tired, anguished memory and allow her to find it, then her mind would be at rest. Her beleaguered mind continued to taunt and torture her, the harder she tried to focus on it, the more elusive the memory became.
She tried desperately to remember while holding back a flood of tears which now threatened to stream down her flushed cheeks, the slow rise of panic began to build from her stomach and up through her body making her feel slightly nauseous. The ambivalent mixture of fear in not being able to find it, and anger at herself for allowing the memory to slip in the first place, began clouding her already confused and frustrated memory. She placed a hand over her stomach and closed her eyes trying to calm herself hoping it might help her to think more clearly. After taking a deep relaxing breath, she then tried to picture in her mind the days when she first arrived at the garrison and to where, in her own secretive way, she might have hidden valuable things, things for her eyes only, things that she deemed personal or private. She tried to imagine her room as it used to be before she adorned it with her own decorative touches, before she had moved and adjusted the furniture to her liking, before it became a room for a woman, rather than a room for a man. But no matter what she attempted to do – she could clearly imagine the room as it once was – but the room would not reveal its lost, hidden secret, her time ragged memory simply wasn’t going to allow her to do it. The twenty-year-old ensconced keepsake remained safe and secure, cruelly mocking her lack of recall and incompetence in her failure to mentally retain the location as well as she had retained the memory of the keepsake itself.
In a moment of despair, and with the bitter acceptance of defeat, the torturous realisation came over her that she might never ever find it again. She sat on her bed and wept, her head lowered and cupped in her hands. Then came a soft knocking on her door, she suddenly looked up and froze, bringing her out of the woeful state she was in.
“Come!” Said Mirvanda, standing up, her voice sounding croaky and broken.
The door was opened and in walked the princess clad in a ceremonial black dress; two guards halted just outside the threshold and waited there.
“Mirvanda, are you all packed and ready? Lord d’Gravernaugh will be here soon and . . . .?” The princess stopped in mid-sentence seeing that Mirvanda was quite evidently upset over something. She turned round and with a nod to her guards closed the door on them. She quickly walked over to where Mirvanda stood at her bedside and took hold of her trembling hands, she tilted her head and looked concernedly into her eyes.
“Mirvanda. . .whatever is the matter?”
Mirvanda’s long suffering, kind face tried to raise a smile but the sheer effort alone was too much for her to try.
“My Lady,” she said, trying to hold back the sobbing convulsions erupting in her body. “I cannot find something that I hold to be very precious in my heart. I have looked everywhere. I know it is here in this room but I cannot remember where I once put it for safekeeping, I fear it would be the end of me should I not be able to find it. So long it has been. . .so lon. . .?”
Her voice trailed off to nothing as the memory belonging to a blurry, distant past rendered her mute. Her eyes stared vacantly ahead is if trying to focus on something that wasn’t really there. The princess sat them both down on the bed then pulled a cloth hanky from her dress pocket and gave it to Mirvanda. She watched in quiet sympathy as Mirvanda dabbed her wet eyes with it, her hand still trembling.
As she sat there holding Mirvanda’s other hand for comfort, a sudden fury and outrage then welled up inside the princess like she had never known before. It wasn’t aimed at Mirvanda, but rather at the entire situation and the lethal consequences of a hateful curse placed upon the kingdom which, had for so long blighted innocent lives. Her mother and father were now both dead because of it, Mirvanda and d’Gravernaugh’s life together had been blown asunder; his father had met his death by the onset of the vile beasts and the whole kingdom had suffered at some point the effects of a curse placed on the innocent by the Mekue. As she considered these thoughts in anger, the princess found a hidden strength and resolve coming to life inside her, and she vowed to herself to do whatever was necessary to help bring about an end to the curse once and for all – even if it resulted in her own death, this she promised to herself with a grim determination. The twenty-year reign of terror must finally come to an end and will.
The princess looked around Mirvanda’s room, casually taking in the decor and furniture, making a mental note of everything and where it had been placed. She then turned to Mirvanda.
“Mirvanda. Have no fear, we will find it together, two heads are better than one. A room does not lose anything to time, and if it means that much to you, we will not leave until it is found. My father’s funeral cannot begin without me. Does that comfort you?”
“Yes. Thank you, My Lady, you’re very kind,” replied Mirvanda, already feeling better within herself.
“Kind!” Exclaimed the princess, rolling her eyes upward and patting Mirvanda’s hand. “My dear Mirvanda, kindness has nothing to do with it, but keeping affairs of the heart intact, has. Too long has darkness held sway over love and light in my Kingdom. That time, I promise you, is coming to an end. And it begins today, here in this very room! Now. . .may I ask what it is that we seek?”
“Yes, My Lady,” said Mirvanda, dabbing her drying eyes while looking over the hanky at the princess. “On the day I first came to the garrison my lord d’Gravernaugh gave me a folded silken handkerchief which had his initials embroidered in one of the corners with a fine crimson thread. The folded handkerchief contained a letter inside, a written letter in the flowing script of my lord’s hand.”
“I understand now why it is so precious to you,” added the princess thoughtfully. “How did you come to forget where once you kept it?”
Mirvanda looked on the brink of crying again as the question hung thickly in the air waiting for explanation. The princess quickly intervened when noticing Mirvanda’s imminent deluge of new tears.
“Shh, shh, Mirvanda,” uttered the princess in a motherly fashion. “The fact that you have forgotten the location is not as important as the rediscovery of it, pay it no mind and calm yourself. You need not tell me if the hurt is too great.”
“No, no, My Lady,” denied Mirvanda staring down at the floor, she exhaled a deep breath then looked up, smiling weakly. “There is no reason preventing me from telling you other than the shame I feel for my own failure of mind which has allowed the hiding place to slip away and escape me.”
The princess studied Mirvanda, looking her up and down as if she was weighing an intuitive thought up in her mind. She absentmindedly reached out for a displaced strand of hair on Mirvanda’s head and gently combed it back into place again with her fingers.
“Mirvanda. Listen to me very carefully,” she said in a kind, but conclusive manner. “I have no wisdom beyond my tender years which I can offer you, but I think I know when someone is carrying guilt inside them unnecessarily. You have nothing with which to feel shame or guilt about. All of us here, living in this kingdom are unwilling, innocent victims who have suffered pain and misery because of that confounded curse. There is no reason whatsoever why we should place the burden of blame – in any degree – on ourselves for how it has altered and affected the course of all our lives. The important thing Mirvanda, is to place the blame firmly where it belongs, and it belongs not with us, but with the Mekue.”
Mirvanda remained silent, taking in what the princess had just said.
“And let me guess, Mirvanda,” added the princess in an enthusiastic outburst. “The first few weeks or months of your coming to the garrison, you used to read that letter daily, did you not? Perhaps more than once even. It was a source of comfort you could turn to whenever you felt lonely or down. And before you realised it, the months had been replaced by years. The letter that once gave you such hope and comfort now gave you nothing but despair, despair for a life filled with love you believed you would never live. Stuck in a garrison destined to serve hungry soldiers until your dying day. The pain became too much for you to bear any longer did it not? Then one day in a unguarded moment of anguish, you decided that you could no longer read it without causing yourself to suffer. You then hid it away somewhere secret forgetting its very existence in an attempt to protect yourself from more pain, did you not? Accepting the life fate had dealt you. As the years tumbled, the memory and power of recall was lost to the very person who had once secreted it away. Out of sight, out of mind. But through it all, in the back of your mind these twenty past years, ever did it remain precious in your heart.”
The princess gently smiled at Mirvanda knowing that she had read the situation to perfection.
“My Lady,” said Mirvanda contemplatively, an inner calm now heard in her voice. Her eyes were distant and glazed as she looked upon the princess. “Your claim to having no wisdom or insight is greatly understated and misplaced. You possess a power that you yourself are not yet fully aware of.”
The princess waved Mirvanda’s statement aside with a brush of her hand.
“Let us put it down to female intuition and be done with it.”
She then stood up and directed her attention to the room wondering to herself where a good safe hiding place could possibly be? Her head darted back and forth causing her long flowing hair to swing from side to side in a graceful sweeping motion. Her head stopped when her eyes finally came to rest upon Mirvanda’s bed.
“Mirvanda,” she asked in an airy manner. “It be an obvious choice, but I trust you have looked under your bed and mattress?”
“Yes, My Lady,” confirmed Mirvanda, her head nodding. “It was not there.”
“There are no hidden pockets at all?”
“No, My Lady, I checked.”
“Hmm, how about that chest of drawers or the wardrobe?” she asked, casting a glance over to them.
“I have checked all the drawers and the inside of the wardrobe, My Lady. I have found nothing. They are empty.”
The princess now looked perplexed. Apart from a singular table and chair no other item of furniture occupied the room, the only noticeable feature left was the long slitted, metal barred window on the south facing wall.
“Well I must confess, Mirvanda. This is a good mystery is it not?” She looked in hope at the two leather carrying cases on the floor.
“No, My Lady,” said Mirvanda in anticipation of the princess’s questioning look. “I am certain it is not in either of those cases.”
The princess walked to the window and examined it thoughtfully, running her hands along the brickwork where it met the window frame and bars. Having satisfied herself that nothing could have possibly been hidden there, she turned back to face into the room. Her eyes then fell on the chest of drawers.
“Mirvanda! Please come and help me to remove these drawers.”
Together, they both pulled out the three empty drawers one by one and carried them over to the bed, they then flipped them over to expose the underneath. Nothing was there but the smell of old wood. The princess went back to the chest frame and knelt down to look around its walls; she ran her hands along all around the insides feeling for clues but nothing revealed itself. The chest stood about six inches from the floor, supported by four carven legs which would allow someone with small arms and hands to slip them underneath, this she did once she had lowered her head to floor level and peered into the gloomy darkness underneath, but after rummaging around everywhere with her searching, feeling hands, nothing was found. Then with Mirvanda’s help they pulled the chest away from the wall to look behind it. Nothing.
The princess got back up with a frown on her face, a hand covered her cheek while she considered the situation. She went to the table and chair and performed a similar examination but there was nothing to be found.
She looked round at Mirvanda noticing that she had a most perculiar expression on her face, it was the look of someone who’s lost, forgotten memory of an event from the past was slowly crystallizing and taking shape again, reforming itself into a more cohesive mental picture.
“Have you remembered something, Mirvanda?” asked the princess, her face now showing the excitement and anticipation of rediscovery.
“I am not sure, My Lady. . .there is somethi. . .?”
Mirvanda stood quite still, her eyes fixed on the only piece of furniture that the princess had not yet personally examined. She walked over to the wardrobe and slowly pulled opened the doors, they creaked and squeaked as she did so. The pair of them stood facing the empty shelves and hanging spaces where Mirvanda’s clothes were once stored and hung. The princess, after taking a good look round, feeling along the top and bottom of the shelves with her hands, then pushing and poking here and there, shook her head and looked doubtfully back at Mirvanda who, still wore the same expression on her face but now with an additional frown.
“There is nothing to be found here, Mirvanda. It is as it appears, empty.”
“Yes, My Lady,” agreed Mirvanda. “But for some reason I cannot explain, I am drawn to it.”
The princess knelt down and studied the base of the wardrobe, she noted that no space existed between the wardrobe and the floor to allow an investigative hand to search around underneath. The wardrobe would have to be moved out from its position against the wall to make further investigation possible. She stood back up and absentmindedly raised a hand to her mouth and began playing with her bottom lip – studying the wardrobe while lost in thought.
“Well, Mirvanda, it is quite baffling to say the least. I am stuck in my mind to suggest anything else other than to pull this wardrobe out from the wall it is stuck against.”
“MY LADY!” Exclaimed the over excited Mirvanda, her hands shooting up to the sides of her shocked face in both joy and total relief. “I remember! Stuck! You just said stuck. Of all the words to jolt a memory back into life comes the very thing which I once did.”
“What do you mean, Mirvanda,” asked the wide-eyed princess, sounding just as excited.
“The handkerchief is stuck to the underside of the wardrobe; I remember now like it was yesterday. Oh, thank you My Lady, a thousand thanks.”
Mirvanda was so overcome she almost collapsed with the excitement of it all. She sat down on the chair next to the table and buried her head in her hands and cried the tears of unashamed joy. The princess then knelt down in front of Mirvanda and pulled her hands down from her elated looking, smiling face and shared her newly found joy and happiness.
“But Mirvanda,” asked the giggling princess. “How, by everything that is possible, did you manage to stick it under there in the first place?”
“Hide glue my lady, I used some hide glue I got from the garrison carpenter.”
“Yes, but how did you manage to get to the underneath of the wardrobe to ever be able to do it?”
“Oh, My Lady,” replied Mirvanda, laughing. “That was the easy part. I told the carpenter that my wardrobe was unsteady, it rocked every time I opened the doors, which at the time was true. I asked him if he would come and take a look at it for me. He and another wood worker came and found that one of the front underside corners had become weak of joint, so they pulled it out, leaning it up against the wall, they then went away to get some wood and glue. When the repair was done, they told me the wardrobe would need to stay leant up against the wall for a day until the glue was set and hardened. They would return on the morrow to set it back against the wall. After they had gone the idea suddenly came to me that I might be able to hide the hanky and the letter on the exposed underneath. I carefully folded the letter up and wrapped the hanky around it, I then slid a finger underneath the wardrobe and wiped some fresh glue seeping from the joints of the repair work. I dabbed a little glue to each corner of the facing folded side of the hanky and stuck in place to one of the back corners. The next day, the workmen returned and replaced the wardrobe back to where it belonged; my secret hiding place was safe and secure.”
“Mirvanda Duncante! You are as sneaky and cunning as a Fox,” said the princess while standing up. She walked over to the door and opened it.
“Guards! Please come inside for a moment would you. Miss Duncante needs your help.”
The guards obeyed, ushering themselves into the room and stood awaiting instruction.
“Guards,” said the princess, turning and pointing at the wardrobe. “We need this to be pulled away from the wall so we can get to something stuck on the underside of it.”
“Yes, My Lady,” they answered in unison. The guards leant their spears up against an opposite wall and then set about dragging the wardrobe out. They tilted the wardrobe backwards leaning it up against the wall, then looked to princess for further orders.
“Mirvanda, may I suggest that we ask the guards to retrieve your secret. It will be terribly dirty and dusty under there; your lovely dress will spoil.”
“Very well My Lady,” Mirvanda said, nodding her agreement, great excitement was seen written on her face. She rose from the chair and went to sit on the bed to get a better view of the proceedings.
The princess then addressed the guards.
“There is something considered to be very precious and of great value to Miss Duncante which is stuck to one of the back corners of this wardrobe. Would one of you please find and carefully remove it and return it to its rightful owner. And please, be very careful.”
“My Lady,” said one of the guards who then knelt down and peered into the dusty underside. He removed the gauntlet from one of his hands and began to gingerly feel around toward the back corners of the wardrobe. With an expression of discovery coming over his face, he looked to be trying to remove something as carefully as he was able to. He suddenly stood up with a dusty looking cloth in his hand and gave it to the teary eyed Mirvanda who, after gratefully accepting it and giving the soldier her deepest thanks, looked upon it with the same love and longing she had regarded it with some twenty years previously.
The princess enjoyed watching Mirvanda’s reunion with her lost, but found treasure, she was now totally taken by the moment and lost to her own private thoughts. The princess spoke quietly to the guards who then replaced the wardrobe back against the wall and then left the room to take up their sentry positions behind the now, closed door. She then went to sit next to Mirvanda on the bed.
“See, Mirvanda,” said the princess softly, gently resting her hand on Mirvanda’s arm and looking down at her open hands which her long lost, rediscovered secret, now rested upon. “A room does not lose anything, only the person loses it in their own mind.”
Mirvanda smiled contentedly back seemingly lost for words. The princess girlishly giggled at the look on Mirvanda’s face, she felt happy for her. They both then sat with eachother in comfortable silence. After a short time later, they both heard the sound of heavy footsteps outside and some talking was also heard. A sharp knock then sounded and the two women stood up and faced the door.
“Enter!” Spoke the princess, loudly.
The door swung open and a polished looking, ceremonially dressed, Jules d’Gravernaugh boldly entered the room.
“Greetings My Princess, your carriage awaits yo…..?”
He suddenly stopped mid-sentence when his eyes fell upon the beautiful looking Mirvanda, his lower jaw was visibly seen to have involuntarily dropped. He stood there staring at her having been rendered speechless by her lovely countenance.
The princess and Mirvanda shared a secret look between each other while their faces broke into a smile. The princess then looked at d’Gravernaugh.
“Greetings, My Lord,” she said. “And yes. She is quite beautiful is she not,” added the princess as if speaking aloud his thoughts.
She paused for a moment then headed for the open door, once there, she stopped at the threshold and turned around.
“My Lord. Mirvanda. I am going to wait in my carriage. Do not be in any hurry on my behalf. Mirvanda, I will arrange for your cases to be carried down to the carriage for you. Yes, my lord, Mirvanda is coming to live at the castle with me. No more living in a gloomy dungeonous house full of men. It is fair time that the light of life be returned to her ever-shrinking soul so that the fire of passion may be rekindled. Mirvanda, I will see you in the carriage when you are ready. My Lord! I will see you when we arrive at the castle.”
And with her small speech having finished, the princess left closing the door behind her and made her way downstairs with her guards.
d’Gravernaugh watched as the princess closed the door. His gaze then fell upon the smiling, but nervous looking Mirvanda.
“Please do not be angry with me, My Lord,” she said with pleading eyes.
d’Gravernaugh walked over to her and took hold of her hands which still held the hanky and letter in them, he looked at them and knew instantly what they were. He then looked upon her fair face and gently smiled.
“Mirvanda, of all the many feelings that I have ever had for you, anger has never been one of them. In my attempts to keep you safe I have done nothing other than bring darkness and despair to your life, for this I am truly sorry. If anyone deserves anger directed at them, then it is me.”
Mirvanda slowly shook her head in gentle denial.
He lifted her cupped hands being careful not to damage what she held in them and placed a kiss upon her flesh.
“Am I still pleasing to your eyes, My Lord?” Asked Mirvanda, holding his gaze.
d’Gravernaugh ran a hand through her hair and caressed her ear, she tilted her head and closed her eyes as the sensations of a loving touch ran riot through her yielding body.
“Mirvanda, ever have you been more glorious to my eyes than the most beautiful sunrise that a man could ever conceive of or possibly witness. You are beautiful beyond measure.”
“Jules, just hold me.”
They both embraced, and in doing so, all the years, their worries, and their fears, melted away from Mirvanda. And it seemed to her that she was twenty years of age again, safely in the loving arms of the young Jules d’Gravernaugh. Her gently heaving shoulders betrayed her to be softly crying, but crying with tears of happiness rather than the tears of sorrow.
She was quite content to do nothing more than to remain in this loving embrace forever.