But enough about me. Here's the story that could have been, but wasn't.
* * *
Kaleb paused in the doorway to the library, and his eyes went immediately to the small table in the center. There sat Riley, peering intently at one of her massive tomes that were filled with lettering that Kaleb couldn't decipher, even with his knowledge of ancient languages. A small wrinkle had formed between her pale brows from concentration, her lips were moving silently, and her fingers twitching in the air, as if pulling on invisible strings and rearranging them to a suitable pattern. She seemed completely oblivious to his presence, not looking up as she usually would at the sound of his footsteps on the tile floor. His skin prickled with energy; Kaleb knew that this meant she was practicing spellwork, which also meant she would be absolutely furious if he interrupted her.
He hesitated, weighing his need against her anger. His decision, however, was made for him, as Riley's fingers fluttered to the table, and her eyes became unfocused as she relaxed into her chair. It was now or never for Kaleb.
Summoning his resolve, he strode over to the table and planted his palms on its polished top, and leaned in towards Riley. Her gaze immediately snapped to him, and there was subtle tension in her shoulders, and the way her fingers curled on the table. Ignoring this, Kaleb stared her down for a good moment, before saying,
“You need to talk to the Fairy Godmother or whomever is incharge. I demand to be released immediately.”
Riley knit her fingers together in front of her, and stared at him back steadily. Her eyes, as were their habit, were swirling from blue to grey to green, and it was disconcerting to keep watching. He nearly looked away after a solid minute of holding her eyes, but instead blinked and kept it up. He needed this, oh he needed this.
“Well,” she said slowly, “isn't this a surprise. Little Kaleb is standing up for himself. Unfortunately, there is no leaving for you until some girl comes along and marries you. There's a contract and all. You'll probably be stuck here until you die. Sorry, better sit tight and get used to it.”
Kaleb grimaced. “You don't understand. Remember how I told you that I was kidnapped before waking up here? That should have annulled the contract immediately. Besides that, circumstances have changed. My two sisters have been captured and are being held for ransom; I need to get them back. My family may be noble, but we don't have the kind of payment they're asking for.”
Riley shrugged, and leaned back in her chair. “You have older brothers. Let them deal with it. Besides, the kidnappers don't really want a ransom, they want war. Your king can't be allowed to have his nobility threatened and intimidated. He can send someone.”
“So you're saying that you have no qualms over my sisters being killed because you were keeping me here? What kind of a woman are you?” He regretted his words instantly, as Riley's eyes glinted, and settled into a steel grey.
Her voice became dangerously soft and icy. “How dare you! If I had my way, I would never have even seen your face. You're lucky I didn't kill you the moment I laid eyes on you. I didn't make the contract, the Fairy Godmother did, and you had best remember that. As for your sisters, I will only say this once. I don't care about you, I don't care about your family, and I don't care about your kingdom. They can all go and throw themselves at the Goddess' feet and beg for her aid, for all I care.”
There was disgust in her voice, and it made his stomach churn. He let his gaze wander away, no longer able to meet the unyielding iron of her gaze. “Sorry for trying to do the right thing,” he muttered, “I thought you still had some trace of humanity left. I guess I was wrong; all spellcrafters are alike. Arrogant and uncaring.”
Without bothering to wait for her answer, he stormed out. If he had looked back over his shoulder, he would have seen Riley sitting in her chair frozen, an unfamiliar stunned look on her face, like someone had thrust a dagger into her belly and she couldn't quite believe it had just happened.
Kaleb spent the next week avoiding Riley by wandering the infinite garden paths, lefting himself get lost purposely to end up as far away from the house as he possibly could. When he got tired, he would find a comfortable spot to stretch out in the unnatural, eternal sun, and napped.
He was going to continue this new routine, when he happened to be walking past the room where Riley kept her communication mirror. He heard voices talking, and he paused, before pressing his ear to the door to hear better.
“...but Godmother, if its true that it was not his blood that signed the contract in his name, doesn't that make it void?” Riley was asking.
A sugary sweet voice replied, that Kaleb instinctively knew belonged to the Fairy Godmother. “Darling, this is a business I'm running here. I'd make sure that certain criteria had been met before accepting anyone into our Dragon Watch program. Can't have people complaining.”
“Does the signature need to be from a blood relative?” Riley insisted.
There was silence on the other end, and Kaleb wished he could see the Godmother's face. It was Riley who spoke again to break the silence. “You were forced into validating the contract, weren't you?”
Silence again. Kaleb itched to know the answer. Finally, the Godmother said, “Well, in any case, nothing to do now. Contract says he must be married to leave. If no one comes along to marry him, unfortunately, my hands are tied, he's stuck. Unless of course you agree to marry him.”
Riley inhaled sharply. “Never. You know that.”
“Yes dear, I know. I'm really sorry that I had to place him with you, it is dreadfully difficult to find reliable people like you to be my Dragons.”
“Well, there are very few people who are trying to stay hidden as I am.”
The Godmother laughed, her voice chimes and tinkles, “Yes, that is very true dear.”
Riley, hiding? Kaleb could barely conceive of the idea. I'd be terrified to meet whoever she's afraid of.
The Fairy Godmother continued. “The situation of his sisters is very unfortunate, it must be said. They've been captive for several weeks, and King Aden has declared war on Queen Mathilda and the Triple Crown Kingdom. Their armies haven't met yet, but it will be a massacre on both sides. I can't see his sisters surviving. Not that Kaleb would make a difference in the fight; useless son, from what I hear. His two older brothers are supposedly glad that he's out of the way, as he can't interfere with their plans....”
Kaleb turned away, his stomach twisting into knots. He walked to the dining room and gripped the back of one of the elaborately carved wooden chairs so hard that his knuckles were white and shaking. Of course Tristan and Luke would be pleased that I'm locked up somewhere. I bet they didn't even blink when they found out I'd been captured and then put into Dragon Watch. I always was the clumsy, weak, bookish younger brother than no one wanted around. He growled under his breath. Suzie and Beth are locked up, maybe in pain, and I'm stuck here. Worthless! Useless! Stupid wasted of space!
He pushed himself away from the chair in disgust. He spun around, intending to go outside, but was stopped by Riley leaning against the door frame with her arms crossed, an unreadable expression on his face. He wasn't in the mood to put up with her today. “What?” he snarled, “Come to look at the weakling son no one wants?”
“So you were eavesdropping, then.”
“Fat lot of good it did me! I learned nothing new, except for more questions about your past that you will never answer because you never talk about anything personal, and frankly, I'm starting not to care anymore anyways. If you're going to be a bitch, I'm done with playing nice and turning the other cheek. If you will please excuse me, I'm going to go feel sorry for myself somewhere you can't see me!” His anger had exploded outwards, and he had to fight back heated tears. Instead of Riley rising to his anger, her expression softened, and she held out her hands placatingly.
“Kaleb, I'm sorry.”
The anger that had been supporting him drained away with those three words, and left him empty. His knees buckled, and he fell to the cold tiles, unable to stop himself from sobbing. Pressing his face into the floor, he let the humiliation and fear that he had built up for years flow out, and congregate in the shallow valleys of the floor. After a moment, a warm hand was rubbing his back, cradling his head, holding him close. He sunk into Riley, despite everything there was between them, and wept until there were no more tears.
Void of everything, he lay still in Riley's arms, his eyes close, letting her tell him that everything would turn out alright, and hum snatches of a lullaby to him under her breath. Finally, the ground put itself back under his feet, and he picked himself up, pulling away from Riley and wiping his face on his sleeves.
Riley sat still, a kneeling statue, watching him, her eyes a dark blue-green. Feeling the first tinges of embarrassment, he couldn't meet her eyes. “It doesn't matter, anyways,” he said numbly, “I'm never going to leave this place. I should just forget everything.”
“You can never forget. No matter how much time passes. You can pretend, but deep down inside, you will know, you will remember, and you will feel this pain.”
“Then what would you have me do?”
“Lets start by teaching you how to fight.”