Photo Credit K.L. Caley

I am writing this for the weekly #WritePhoto challenge by KL Caley at New2Writing.com. Read all about it and join in if you'd like!

Kind of a fun challenge this time. It's exactly 1000 words.

Past the Tower

Tommy and Beth stood and gazed up at the tower-topped entrance to the castle grounds, their mouths slightly open. It looked just like they would expect a castle gate to look. 

 

“You think we’re supposed to just walk in?” Tommy tried not to sound scared, but he wasn’t sure he’d managed. Bethy could always tell, anyway. His older sister put her arm around him.

 

“The letter said this is where we come, and we’ll be starting our new lives.” If Beth worried that the letter was all a fakement, she kept it to herself. Were there such a things as princes and princess these days?

They didn’t have anywhere else to go, unless they stayed at the orphanage. The letter said they belonged here.

What was the worst that could happen if they went through the gate? Someone might come and tell them they didn’t belong, and send them back. Or… someone might welcome them as the ones they’d been waiting for, the lost prince and princess of this tiny kingdom they’d never heard of.

 

Pulling her brother with her, Beth stepped through the gate beneath the tower. For a moment as she passed under it, she felt the vast weight of the stones over her. Then they were through and in the courtyard.

 

The children stopped and looked around, their mouths once again falling open a bit. It was a fairy-tale castle.

 

A man hurried up and gave them a deep bow. “Welcome to Atopia, my lord, my lady. Follow me, if you please.”

 

They followed, holding hands. Tommy nudged his sister and giggled at the man’s funny clothes. Tights, and a long shirt. Beth noticed that all the people rushing about the courtyard were dressed oddly.

 

She glanced back at the gate through which they’d entered. Something about the deep shade of the passage under the tower… she couldn’t really see outside, just a blur. 

 

“This is weird.”

 

“I hope they have lunch for us. I’m hungry.” Tommy worried less about the future than she did.

 

Beth squeezed his hand. They’d both been hungry for a long time. Whatever else happened, if they got regular meals, it’d be an improvement. With one last glance back at the tower, she followed the man into the castle.

 

Coming in abruptly from the bright sunshine outside, it took a minute to see anything. Tommy tripped over an uneven stone in the floor and would have fallen if Beth hadn’t held him up. The chill inside the stone building struck them both at the same time, and they shivered.

 

Tommy looked up at his older sister. “Is it going to be okay?”

 

Not at all sure that it was, Beth nodded. “It’s all going to be fine. Look—there’s a meal laid out for us. At least, I sure hope it’s for us.”

 

The man in tights heard. “It is a modest luncheon for you, my lady, my lord.”

 

Beth looked at the table. A dozen or more heaped dishes covered the table—far more than two children could eat. Well, maybe others would be joining them. They took their seats and Beth reached to serve Tommy and herself with some of the meat, then hesitated. 

 

“Should we wait for the rest?” she asked the man. “And do you have a name, sir?”

 

He looked horrified. “Oh, no, my lady. We wouldn’t dream of sitting at table with you.” He couldn’t help a little wistful glance at one of the dishes which contained a steaming pudding of some kind. It was dark enough to be chocolate, but not quite the right color, and definitely not the right texture.

 

Beth saw. “I want you to join us. And I want to know your name!”

 

He sighed, glanced around, and gingerly perched on a seat not too close to the children. “I am Albert of Nada, my lady. And I am grateful to your generosity. I do love blood pudding.”

 

Tommy looked queasy. “Blood pudding?”

 

“Oh, yes, my lord. Wonderful stuff.” Albert of Nada helped himself to a good-sized serving of the stuff. Waiting until Tommy took his first bite of meat, Albert attacked the pudding with obvious pleasure. Beth took a tiny spoonful and ate it, but didn’t take more, and didn’t put any on her brother’s plate.

 

“Tell me about Atopia,” Beth demanded. “I never heard of it before we got the letter.” The letter had been their ticket out of the orphanage. They’d taken the train to the tiny village at the end of the line, then walked for more than an hour to reach the castle. “I didn’t know there were any independent kingdoms in our country.”

 

Albert looked shifty. “Well, it’s not exactly like that, my lady.”

 

“Maybe I should go back to the village tomorrow and buy a map,” Beth suggested. “So you can show me what it is like?”

 

Albert looked more distressed. “My lady—” He broke off, tried again. “My lady, we sent you a one-way ticket.”

 

“Well, sure,” Tommy piped up. “But Beth just wants to go to the village, not back to the orphanage. Me, too. I found some money on the train, and I want to buy candy.”

 

Albert of Nada appeared downright gloomy. “I don’t think that will be possible.”

 

The children looked at him. 

 

He sighed. “The thing is, it’s not out there now. Or maybe you’d say we aren’t there anymore. I’m afraid, children, that you won’t be allowed to leave.”

 

Late that night, Beth and Tommy crept from the castle to the tower gate. It was locked, but they peered through a small gap. The tree-lined lane by which they’d approached the castle was gone. It looked like the Sahara desert out there now. She could even feel the heat pressing on the gate, though it didn’t reach over the top to warm them.

 

Without a word, Beth and Tommy turned around. Albert appeared to escort them to their rooms. At least they got plenty of food here. 

 

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©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
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