The Thunder Palace. Blake had heard stories of how grand and impressive it was, and he had to admit that the stories did not do the grand building justice. It was night when they arrived, the shimmering orica lighting the walls and illuminating the brightstone, causing the whole castle to shine.
As great as it was, though, it couldn’t compare with Silverscale. In Blake’s memories, no matter what aspect he looked at, the high walls, the imposing towers, the heavy gates, he compared them to the great castle from his memories, the high walls and rolling fields he’d once called home, and found the Thunder Palace lacking in every respect.
“Marvelous, simply marvelous!” Reed applauded, her face as bright as the castle’s walls. “It’s gorgeous!”
Clearly, Blake’s sentiments weren’t shared by his schoolmates.
The rumbling gates opened for the magic carriage to lead them through, and they arrived at a grand courtyard that was filled with people of all sort; they were servants, but still dressed finely, golden sigils embroidered on their uniforms as they bustled through the yard.
The carriage pulled to a stop and the door opened, and there she was. Fie. The head maid of the Thunder Palace. She stepped aside to help them down from the carriage. Blake was the last to leave, passing the dragon’s cage across the threshold into Reed’s waiting arms, and turned to the maid.
She guided him out of the carriage. Her hand was as cold as ice.
“Your luggage will be delivered to your rooms. Please, follow me,” she declared, turning towards a large door.
Reed passed Blake the dragon cage back and followed after Fie, along with Lance and Elly. Blake trailed after them, still shaken by Fie. He couldn’t understand how it was possible, but…
No. Now isn’t the time to think about something like that. Blake cleared his thoughts with a shake of his head. Those days were long in the past, dwelling on them would be pointless.
He followed them into a long, wide hall, one that was surprisingly empty. Brightly lit though it may have been, Blake still found it haunting. He had not been in many grand castles, but he remembered Silverscale being so much more busy, and this was the royal palace of the capitol. But even so, he still would have expected some sort of welcome.
“I’m surprised, I thought we would have a big greeting or something, considering that the prince has returned,” Reed asked the maid.
“The staff is quite busy this evening,” Fie calmly explained. “In preparation for the welcome banquet.”
Blake perked up. A banquet? He had dim memories of banquets and feasts from his childhood, memories of loud voices and cheers and the warmth of his father’s hand on his shoulder, the ripples of his mother’s laughter. His heart skipped a beat, his excitement growing. But there was one thing he was concerned about.
“I-I can’t go to the feast,” Blake said, quickly catching up to the maid. “I can’t leave my dragons alone for that long!”
“You needn’t worry, m’lord,” Fie said, not even looking him in the eye. “Your dragons have been invited to partake in the festivities. They are the guests of honor, after all, our honored guests are excited to see the first dragons in living memory.”
Blake tensed up. He wasn’t sure if that was a good idea, either. That would be a lot of sensory overload for his dragons, and he couldn’t be sure how they would respond to so many strangers. They couldn’t spit fire or fly, yet, but they could still cause a lot of havoc by scurrying about in a frenzy and biting people, or cutting with their talons. What if someone stepped on one of them, or if they managed to escape somehow and he never found them again?
What if someone abducted one of them?
No, no, it was too risky. He shook his head in refusal. “I can’t,” he said. “These dragons are just babies. They aren’t pets, they can be startled easily and would run away or hurt somebody, it isn’t a good idea, trust me.”
He didn’t know what he was expecting from the head maid. Maybe some small amount of consideration? A whiff of concern? Something that let him know that his faith wasn’t misplaced?
He received nothing.
“Their presence is not a request,” Fie declared.
Blake shot a glare at Lance. This hadn’t been part of the agreement. Lance had a tense look on his face, and averted his eyes. Blake ground his teeth together and was about to tell the prince where he could shove it, when Reed stepped in between them.
“Don’t worry, Blake, it’ll be fine!” Reed smiled. “I promise! We’ll take good care of them!”
Blake didn’t have a lot of faith in Reed. Talented as she might have been, and as much as she loved dragons, when it came to responsibility Blake didn’t exactly find her the most trustworthy person in the sky.
“For your peace of mind, m’lord, there have been considerations put in place to ensure the dragon’s safety,” Fie assured Blake. But she still wasn’t looking him in the eye. She hadn’t met his gaze once since that first meeting. And that stung. Blake hurt to feel that coldness from her, but he didn’t let it get to her.
He also didn’t have a lot of faith in the castle’s ability to safeguard the dragons, considering it had been over a hundred years since dragons had flown through the sky.
But it was clear that any arguments wouldn’t be accepted. He held his tongue, and followed the maid as she led them through the hall.
“Fie- err, I mean, head maid, can I see my mother?” Elly asked quietly, her voice filling with hope.
“Apologies, Rynae is working at the banquet this evening,” Fie said. “You can speak with her afterwards.”
“O-Oh, okay,” Sango said, her heart clearly sinking when she heard that. Fie turned to the prince.
“Prince Lancelus. Your mother wishes to speak with you before the banquet in her quarters,” Fie informed him, and Blake saw Lance visibly flinch at that, much to his surprise. So Lance had some issues with his mother? That was a surprise.
Lance nodded, turned, and headed off on a turn in the hall, and the head guided the other three of them down the other way. Blake peeked over his shoulder to see what Lance was up to, but he didn’t care nearly as much about what the prince was doing as he cared about talking with Fie. He had a lot of things he wanted to ask her.
“The guest rooms are this way,” Fie said, stopping at another turn, and gesturing down the long hall. She glanced at Elly. “I believe you can find the servants’ quarters from here,” she added, nodding the other way.
Elly winced. Blake wanted to tell the maid where to shove it, but before he had a chance Reed laughed it off. “Oh, don’t worry! Elly’ll be staying with me!”
“Will she?” Fie asked, not seeming to care one way or another.
“She will?” Elly asked, her jaw dropping.
“Come on, Elly, it’ll be fun!” Reed laughed, wrapping her arm over Elly’s shoulder. “We can talk about dragons!”
Elly’s wary face told Blake she wanted to be anywhere but rooming with Reed. But to Blake’s surprise, even as reluctant as she was she still nodded her head and agreed. He wondered if staying with Reed was preferable to being alone with just her mother. But he didn’t give it another thought as Fie was already leaving them in the dust, heading down the hall towards the guest’s quarters.
As they walked down the hallways, Reed continued to pester Fie with excited questions. Practically bouncing with a cute smile on her face, she was like an excited child, Blake amusingly noted. Fie came to a stop halfway through the hall. She turned to them, her eyes not even glancing in Blake’s direction as she stared at Reed.
“Lady Rivers, your room is here on the left,” Fie said, gesturing towards the door.
“Oh, I’m not a lady of any sort,” Reed chuckled, waving off the maid’s etiquette.
Fie didn’t reply directly, only answering “I will inform the staff that Elaindra will be staying with you.”
“Cool, let’s go, Elly!” Reed said, opening the door and bouncing into the room, dragging Elly behind her. Elly shot one last frightful look Blake’s way, and he pretended not to see it. Better you than me, he silently apologized.
With Reed squealing over her room from behind closed doors, Blake was left alone in the hall with just his dragons and the head maid.
She still refused to look him.
“Fie…” Blake’s voice cracked as he spoke up, the words dying in his throat. He felt like he couldn’t get anything out now.
“Your room is this way, m’lord,” Fie said, leading him to the neighboring room. She opened the door and held it open, gazing past him as he walked into the room.
If Blake had been impressed by the suite, the guest room was even more impressive. The décor was simply better. The curtains were fancier, the design on the rug was more elegant, and the bed wasn’t only larger, but the canopy and curtains were larger and gaudier as well, deep silk red with embroidered gold, standing out against the warm cream walls and the hand-carved furniture. It wasn’t as cozy as the room he remembered in his old home, but it was still quite nice. He set the dragons down on one of the tables, but before he let them out the sound of footsteps reminded him of what had slipped his mind.
“Wait, Fie!” Blake said, turning quickly to stop the head maid. She paused in the doorway, her back to Blake. She didn’t make a move, clearly waiting for him to say something.
“You need not refer to me by name, m’lord, unless it please you,” Fie said. “Head maid is more than acceptable.”
“I don’t care about that,” Blake said, the words straining his throat. He walked closer to her. He was afraid. Afraid of the possibility that he was wrong. Or was he afraid that he was right? He wasn’t sure. It had been the last thing he had expected, and right now he didn’t know how to handle it. Until now his world had been the young dragons, but right now he didn’t know what to make of things.
“Is there something else you need from me, m’lord?” Fie asked.
Yes, there was something else Blake needed. He needed answers. Answers to a thousand questions that had only appeared when he laid eyes on her all these years later. Is it really you? How are you here? Why are you here? Why did you leave me?
Right now, the question that he needed to ask most was the one that pained him.
“Why won’t you look at me?” Blake asked quietly. He hated how weak he sounded, like he was back to being that scared little boy fleeing from his burning home. But he couldn’t make the words sound any stronger if he tried.
“Is it necessary to look at you to fulfill my duties, m’lord?” Fie asked, her voice cold and stinging.
Blake winced. “No, it’s just… I just…”
What did he want to say? He wasn’t even sure himself. But he knew that right now, seeing her like this hurt him. There was so much he wanted to ask her, and the next question to slip out of his lips was a single word.
“Fiona?” He asked, certain it was her and terrified of the answer, though what answer he was more frightened of he couldn’t say,
“No, m’lord,” Fiona said, her voice a cold rebuke of Blake’s hopes. “My name is Fie. There is no one here who goes by that name. I beg your pardon.”
The way she’d said that confirmed once and for all that it was her. It had been ten years since the maid Blake had known from the day he was born left him in his uncle’s care and vanished into the night, and he didn’t know what had happened in that time that had led her to the position of head maid of the royal family. But even all these years later, even if she went by a new name, Blake knew more than anything it was Fiona standing in front of him.
“I know it’s you,” he whispered, searching for anything, a nod, a twitch, something that could let him know she had heard him, and felt something from his words. But she gave him nothing, as still as a statue. “Please, Fiona, won’t you just look at me?”
Blake had spent so long trying to forget everything about her, and he’d almost succeeded. But seeing her again made everything come rushing back. Blake had wondered why she’d left that night, and had cried about it more than he’d cared to admit. Of course he had! Fiona had been the last thread connecting him to his family, the last person he’d known from his old life, who had taken care of him all the way to Gulchwood Elms, and then… she was gone.
He needed her to tell him why. Why had she left him alone? She owed him an explanation and he was going to get it, if he could only make the words come out of his mouth! But all that left his lips was a painful whimper. Tears blurred his vision and he hastily wiped them away. This? This was the face he was going to show her? No, he wouldn’t.
The chirp of one of his children from the carrier brought the words to him.
“The eggs hatched,” he managed to croak out. Talking about the dragons was so much easier. “You remember, don’t you? The eggs my momma gave me before we escaped… they hatched, Fiona. And that sword, Soulfire… I awakened it.”
“Yes,” Fie said, unfazed by his words. “I am aware. Your accomplishments are the talk of Starstorm, that’s why his majesty invited you here personally.”
“I’m not that little boy anymore, Fiona,” he insisted, strength welling from places deep inside he’d never felt a trace of strength from before. “I’m stronger now. I’m going to take care of these children, for my family. For me. For them.”
“That is admirable, m’lord,” Fie nodded. “I am sure that if this ‘Fiona’ you’ve taken me for were to hear your words, she would be filled with relief. But as I said… there is no one here who goes by that name. No, if there is nothing more you need from me, would you mind if I take my leave? There is still much to prepare for the banquet, and a maid must always be ready in preparation for her master’s wishes.”
Although she said that, she had not taken one step towards the door. The perfect servant, Blake could see she would not go until he gave her leave to.
He could keep her here. He could barely spit out a word to her, but at least he could do that.
But what would be the point? He could force her to wait on him until she absolutely had to leave, and would that make him feel better? Would it fill that emptiness in his chest that seeing her again had ripped open?
In the end, the only thing he could do was beg.
“Please, Fiona,” he sniveled. “Please… tell me… why did you leave me?”
She let him taste silence. It rattled him; before, her answers came coldly and immediately, but she waited soundlessly for what felt like hours, twisting his chest further and further. And just as he was about to break, she answered him.
“I… am a consummate maid,” she finally answered, with words that were no answer at all. “A true maid works for her master’s sake, in all things. Even if her actions should conflict with what her master wishes of her, it is the duty of a maid to anticipate his needs, and act accordingly.”
“That… are you saying you left me… because it was for my sake?” Blake asked, unable to see what she meant with her words.
“No, m’lord, as I said, I am Fie, the head maid of the Thunder Palace,” Fie corrected him. “There is no Fiona to be found here. However… if this Fiona you speak so fondly of were indeed a maid of my caliber… then perhaps she felt that her continued presence in your life would be no more than a painful reminder of what you had lost. Perhaps, further still, she knew that if she remained at your side, her existence could invite suspicion upon you. Perhaps it was necessary for her to disappear, to separate herself from you, so that no one could use her as a means to get to you. Perhaps, by playing the part of a survivor, she found avenues to confirm your demise in the eyes of the world. Perhaps… if, of course, she was a maid of my caliber.”
She’d prefaced her words with hypotheticals and supposition, but Blake could sense the heart in her words. So that had been why…
Blake winced, and clenched his fists. It frustrated him that he couldn’t rebuke her. She wasn’t wrong. A kindly farmer taking in a relative’s child would have looked natural, and clearly had. But a relative’s child and his maid? That could have drawn attention. And who could say what other reasons Fiona had for leaving him, dangers he could only begin to guess at? The world had thought he was dead, even though no body had been recovered, and it had all been by her hand. And now here she was, with a new life, one devoid of connection to House Harker and Silverscale, a maid of the royal family no one would ever think important to Blake Harker of all people.
Even standing in front of him now, pretending she knew nothing, she was still protecting him. The emptiness he’d felt at seeing her after all this time was beginning to close, flooding with something warmer than what had previously filled him.
He smiled. “Thank you, Fiona,” he whispered, tears of a different sort filling his eyes.
“I have no need of thanks from you, m’lord,” Fie said. “It is simple expected that a maid provide the guests of their master with any counsel they might need.”
Blake was beginning to see Fiona… Fie, for the first time. Not as a shallow figure from his memories, but the older woman who had dutifully protected him all these years. A woman who said things so coldly, when really she had warmth and care in her heart.
There had been so many questions Blake had had when he first saw Fiona, but her words had calmed them into sleep. They didn’t matter anymore. Just one thing still did. “Fio-…sorry, head maid, can I ask you one more question?” Blake asked. It didn’t feel right, calling her Fie. Not when he still knew her as Fiona. But ‘head maid’ was a start.
“Of course, m’lord, a maid must always be expected to answer questions posed her,” Fie replied.
Blake swallowed, not sure what answer he would get, but needing to try one final time. “Why won’t you look at me?” He asked.
Fie was a statue in the door for some time. Finally, she responded with a voice that was different from the emotionless tone she’d used in their entire conversation.
“I told you that my name is Fie. I am the head maid of this palace,” Fie said. “As a maid, it is expected that I must always comport myself with professionalism and pride in my master and my service. That is the duty expected of me as ‘Fie, Head Maid of the Thunder Palace’.”
Blake didn’t understand what she said. Why that meant she couldn’t even look him in the eye. “But-“
“I saw your face, a boy grown,” Fie continued, interrupting him. An act unthinkable for a maid, one that stopped Blake cold in his tracks.
“But once was enough. If I were to look into your eyes once more… then I would stop being ‘Fie, Head Maid of the Thunder Palace’ and that would not be acceptable, m’lord,” she finished, her voice soft as a feather.
“I see…” Blake said quietly, not sure if her words were a comfort or an agony. “Thank you, Fie,” he whispered, the words coming to his lips easier now. “That will be all.”
“Then I will take my leave,” she said, and Blake nodded, turning away from her. His heart felt warmer, a soothing feeling nearly compared to when his dragons had hatched, but with it came a sting of finality.
The rush of footsteps behind him caught his ear mere moments before a pair of arms wrapped around his chest, pulling him into a tight hug from behind.
“Thank you, young lord!” Fie… no, Fiona, cried. “Thank you… for growing up safely…!”
Along with the warmth of her embrace, Blake also felt wetness soaking into the collar of his shirt. All it did was warm him further.