For those of you who’ve followed TTW for this long, I know this was something you’d be looking forward to and were probably disappointed when you checked my blog on Sunday. I am honestly, sincerely sorry for not posting that day. But well, finally I’m here, and you can stop bothering that pretty head of yours predicting what’ll happen next. As always, here’s a link for the previous parts if you haven’t caught up to them. Without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Ivaan finally let out the breath he’d been holding. He started to get out of their hiding spot, but Jo put a hand on his shoulder to stop him, pointed to herself and then out of the spot to indicate that she should go first. Ivaan thought she was a selfish moron until he realised that he was the one who was stupid. He’d probably have knocked the knight over this time, and they were only so lucky to elude the guards once. As soon as she was out, Ivaan flattened himself against the wall and slid along it, out of the metal knight’s reach.
This time, as he followed Jo, he kept his hands flat at his sides to avoid knocking over any more adornments. Things were fine for a few corridors, where it was sparsely guarded and Jo led him easily through them. Then they came to the beginning of a wide, long hallway where the guards milled about like bees in a hive. It was impossible to go through without bumping into one. He whispered in Jo’s ear- “What do we do now?”
“Watch and learn, earthling,” she whispered back. “Just keep your head bent low and don’t say anything unless I nudge you. And don’t follow me- walk beside me.”
Ivaan did as he was told, although he didn’t like being told what to do. He could, of course, make exceptions in situations where his life was on the line. Clasping his left wrist with his right hand in front of him, he walked with Jo. It wasn’t long before one of the guards stopped them.
“What are you servants doing up and about so late at night?”
Jo put on the voice of the last maidservant she’d heard speak. “We are going to prepare the altar for the Thysymnykhta.”
The guard didn’t seem convinced. “The servants usually go to prepare it an hour before the sacrifice.”
“This year is special. It’s the Septdecennial. So her Highness the Queen ordered us to go and get everything done a little early.”
“Fine, but only the women prepare it- why are you taking this man along?”
Jo pretended to be embarrassed, “I-I… um… to help me with the heavy stuff-”
Another sentinel came by and clapped the one who was talking to Jo on the shoulder. He laughed good-naturedly and said-“Oh, let them go, Otto. These two must be an item.”
Otto chuckled with his friend and waving them away, said- “Enjoy your bonking”- and laughed again.
Jo quickly pulled Ivaan along lest the guards change their mind. The others had probably heard the laughs coming from Otto and his friend, so no one bothered them again. They merely giggled a bit at them, like a bunch of gossipy high school girls.
But the conversation had given away their position to Jozsef, who’d taken the same corridors as them not because he was following them, but because those were the only way forward. But now he knew where they were. This was the hallway with the Queen’s room, and Jozsef planned to tackle them right outside it. He didn’t want to lose track of them this time. After this hallway, there were multiple ways forward and he won’t be able to catch them in case they somehow eluded him at the Queen’s room. So he inched along the wall, keeping his eyes peeled for the Queen’s room.
He didn’t have to wait long. Soon they were right outside the massive silver doors of the Queen’s quarters. Jozsef ran and leapt at them like a leopard lunging at his prey. He’d been aiming for the Thysia, but he tackled the princess to the ground.
Jo didn’t know what had hit her. It seemed a heavy, muscular man was lying on top of her shoulder and pinning her right arm down with his left. Her left arm and shoulder hurt- she was sure she’d cracked a bone or something under the man’s weight. She started struggling and kicking the man, trying to get him off herself, but he was too strong. Fortunately, the guards came to help.
“Hey, you! What are you doing tackling a maidservant?”
“She’s already taken, you half-wit. Find someone else to snog.”
“I’m not snogging her, you morons!” Jozsef replied, holding the struggling princess still. “And she’s not a maidservant- she’s Princess Jo and she’s helping the Thysia escape. Grab the Thysia before he can escape, pea-brains!”
The guards were stunned for a while. But they’d always been taught to be sceptical, so there was no way they were going to believe Jozsef so easily.
“You’ve cracked your head, you big lump of meat. Princess Jo and the Thysia are asleep in their individual rooms. This is just a servant couple going for a late-night make out at the altar.”
While Jozsef and the guards were arguing back-and-forth, Ivaan racked his brain. He couldn’t possibly leave Jo alone- he didn’t care even though she was gesticulating frantically for him to go; after all, she’d brought him this far. Adrenalin was already rushing through his nerves. He’d have to do something before their attacker persuaded the guards that they weren’t servants. Jo was probably in pain as well. His mind went into an overdrive. He didn’t have any recollections of the process, but after five seconds he found the man’s throat slit and himself kneeling over him with a dagger.
Ivaan dropped the dagger and ran like he’d never run before. He didn’t care which way he went, didn’t look back to see if Jo was following him, didn’t want to know whether the guards were pursuing him. He just kept on running through the numerous hallways, not slowing down at forks, taking whichever way his instinct told him to. He’d killed a man. No matter that he’d been going to give them away as a result of which he’d probably die himself, but he’d killed him anyway. He was a murderer. He didn’t care if it was in self-defence- the human reason is capable of justifying the greatest wrongs. A scream was building up inside his throat. He wanted to break down then and there. He didn’t care if he was sacrificed. What good was life anyway, knowing he was branded a murderer?
In an empty corridor, a hand grabbed him from behind and turned him around. It was Jo. She slapped him out of his reverie.
“What do you think you’re doing, you clod, running away down all the wrong hallways? I risk my neck to save you, and you bolt through the castle like this? Now we’ll have to go back and start all over again…”
“I don’t care, Jo. I killed a man. I’m a killer, a murderer, a criminal,” Ivaan said, letting his tears flow freely.
“You killed him to save both of us, you dunce. It’s not murder if you do it in self-defence.”
“I killed a man,” he repeated in a detached tone.
“Ivaan Ivaan Ivaan,” said Jo, slapping him continuously. “I know this is hard for you to take, but snap out of it, okay? We need to-”
“Snap out of it? You’re telling me to snap out of it like I’m acting or something? Oh, how would you know, princess- you’ve never had to kill a fly before, much less a man,” he replied, his face a mask of hurt.
“I’m sorry, Ivaan, but I’m only trying to-”
“Save my life, is it? Then stop, Jo. Just go back and live your perfect princess’ life. Why’re you helping me anyway? Just let me die. I’m just another one of the countless Thysia you’ve seen in your lifetime. Let your mom live another two years.”
“Just go, Jo. Get lost.”
Tears streaming down her cheeks, Jo walked away.