Meeting an Outcast

Below is part of my favourite scene from Nobility Among Us, my first novel. It is in the middle of the book, and contains frequent references to earlier events and conversations in the story, so works better in that context and contains a number of spoilers. I hope that at least some of you will still enjoy it and understand why I love it so much, and why I see it as one small reason (among many others) to categorize the overall story as superversive.

 

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Annabelle woke the next morning and rolled over in bed. “Oh, William, I had such a terrible dream…”

But the other half of the bed was empty. Strange, she always woke before William, where was he?

“William?”

There was no response.

On looking around, something seemed odd. Didn’t the sunlight usually come in through the window on the other side of the room? And those wardrobes, they were far more ornate than she remembered. Annabelle got up and walked to the window, then drew back the curtain and gasped. Below her was a familiar set of gardens, beyond that a fortified wall and down the hill the Dreflar River, slowly winding its way north and south into the distance. There was no doubt about it- she was in Draishire Castle. The events and emotions of the previous day came flooding back in an overwhelming tidal wave, and more tears with them.

William was gone, all her possessions were gone, her status, honour and freedom had all been taken away, why hadn’t they just branded her an outcast and be done with it? The walls that had seemed so welcoming the day before now took on a sinister, suffocating tone. The thought that her sentence could have been worse was barely comforting. There was no way back to her former life now and no choice about her future, that would all be determined by her new employer.

If it wasn’t for the despairing mood she was in, Annabelle would have admitted that it was a very pleasant room that she had been provided with; it had a dressing table, writing desk, workstation and even a small balcony, though it lacked the personal touches that would make it her own.

Resigned to her fate, she decided to make use of the en-suite bathroom and clean herself up. The shower was refreshing and it felt good to wash away the grime of the previous day, but the prospect of the day ahead held no appeal. Wrapped in a large towel with another around her hair, she looked for something clean to wear, all of her other clothes having remained back at the house. The drawers of the dressing table contained various sizes of underwear, each size in a separate shoebox in the drawer. After checking the labels on the boxes, she selected various items and laid them out on the bed then turned to the large wardrobe. There were outfits of various styles and sizes hanging from its rails, none of them completely to her liking, but at least some of them would fit. She selected a mostly beige ensemble and dressed, then realised she was very hungry, since her last meal had been lunch the previous day.

She checked the time, it was 10.30am already. There would probably be very few people in the canteen at this time of day, and she was in no mood to socialise. As she headed for the door, she noticed an envelope on the floor that had clearly been slipped under it, with ‘Annabelle’ handwritten across it. The message inside was also handwritten:

‘Dearest Annabelle,

I know you must be feeling terrible, I’m so sorry you had to go through everything that happened yesterday, I wish there could have been another way to sort things out, but there was very little we could do, please forgive us for the pain we caused. I hope you were able to get some rest and are feeling a little better. I apologise about the selection of clothing, it was hard to find something for you at such short notice and we weren’t sure what size you were, I’m sure we can remedy that over the next few days. Please come and see me when you’ve had something to eat and are settled in, there’s a lot we need to talk about and so many things I’d much rather say in person than write in a note.

Your friend,

Sylvia Draishire.’

Annabelle was touched by the sentiments expressed, then thought back to what had happened the day before and pain clouded her thoughts, seeing hypocrisy in every word. She arched her fingers into claws of rage, and took the corners of the note to tear it into pieces, then thought of the good times she and Sylvia had shared and relented. What good would it do? Was there a way back to the way things were? No, there couldn’t be. The only way forward was to adjust to her new status and attempt to stay out of further trouble.

With that in mind, Annabelle headed down to the canteen, hoping for some leftovers from breakfast or other scraps to fill her stomach. On arriving there, there were two people deep in conversation at one of the distant tables across the room, but even that seemed like too much company. She looked through the door to the secondary smaller dining area, saw that it was completely empty and decided it would be best to hide herself in there. She approached the food counter more in hope than expectation, took a tray and plate and eyed up the bowl of fresh fruit on the otherwise empty counter.

As she was piling up her plate with apples, oranges and grapes a friendly middle-aged lady belonging to the kitchen staff greeted her, “Hello there Annabelle, I didn’t expect to see you today. What can I get you?”

“It’s alright, Valerie, I’ve got these,” Annabelle insisted, trying to get away.

“Nonsense, you look famished. I’ll knock you up some fresh rolls and a tomato omelette right away, how’s that?”

“That’s very kind of you, Valerie, but it really isn’t necessary.”

“Won’t take a minute, where will you be?”

“In the secondary dining area, but please, you don’t…”

“Off you go, then, we’ll bring it over to you.”

Unable to withstand such a torrent of positive energy, Annabelle slunk off to her table with an “Alright,” sat down and slowly began munching on an apple as she stared into space.

A few minutes later, the door swung open and the promised tray of food was brought in, along with a large glass of latte. Annabelle looked up, surprised. “Oh, hello.”

“Good morning, I was told this is for you,” said Morten and placed the tray on the table, then eyed Annabelle’s plate. “Would you mind if I took an apple?”

“What are you doing here?” she asked, confused and somewhat shocked by his presence.

“I was told you were interested in running the fitness program for female castle residents. Is that still the case?”

“What? Oh, I hadn’t really thought about it, but you shouldn’t be seen with me.”

“And why not?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Because I was nothing but a prostitute for Baron Fristead for eleven years, then he discarded me for a girl ten years my junior as soon as I married him, I’m carrying his baby and I’ve been sentenced to twenty years of servitude for promoting the forbidden book!”

Morten paused with both eyebrows raised for a moment. “So… is that a no to the apple?”

“How can you joke about such a serious matter? You have a prestigious position on the castle staff. What will become of your reputation?”

“That’s very thoughtful of you to consider my reputation, but let me show you something.” He glanced around to check they weren’t being watched and that no-one was approaching before sitting down opposite her. “Hold out your finger.”

Annabelle obliged with some trepidation.

“Now, place it here.” He pointed to the bridge of his nose.

She was puzzled by this highly unusual request, but obeyed.

“Press down, you should feel some ridges.”

“Why yes I can,” she began with a smile, then gasped as she realised what they were and snapped her hand back as if it had been in a tiger’s mouth. Morten calmly looked her in the eye.

“I am an outcast, restored by the Viscount. I was an assassin for the Antaria special forces and killed four hundred and thirteen people over my career, perhaps a handful truly deserved to die. I was dismissed in disgrace after I was sent with a team to kill the Viscount and his family but failed to do so.”

Annabelle sat with her mouth open as he concluded with half a smile, “So, who should be avoiding who?”