Billy Rain hated Indoor Watch. Indoor Watch was boring. There was no one to talk to, for one thing; you just had to stand stock still in a corridor like one of those suits of shining armour Lady Fireblast had on display throughout the castle. Empty armour could do this job just as well, he grumbled to himself, and I could be out there in the sunshine. Perhaps having a bit of a paddle in the freshwater pond he knew was beyond the castle grounds. The very thought of it made his toes itch.
A sudden noise roused him from his wishful thinking. Instantly alert, he pressed his ear to the thick, oaken door he was supposed to be guarding. Behind it was the apartment of Lady Fireblast’s daughter, the Infanta Svetlana. It was Billy’s rescue of her from a gang of hoodlums on the High Road that had won him his post in the Guard. That day had changed his life forever. So too for the Infanta: she had not been seen in public since the attack.
Beyond the door: silence. Billy Rain hesitated. What if the Infanta was in trouble? What if some accident had befallen her? What if an intruder had climbed in to accomplish what the thwarted hoodlums had not?
Steeling himself – which was ironic, considering he was already clad in armour – Billy Rain turned the handle, shaped like a dragon’s head, and pushed the door open.
The chamber was dimly lit. Heavy drapes blotted out the sunlight. The air smelled stale and… of porridge! Billy Rain slipped in a puddle of it, landing with a clang on the flagstone floor. A silver platter lay nearby, along with the remains of a shattered china bowl. The wall and the back of the door were newly redecorated by a splatter of creamy oats.
As though someone had dashed their breakfast against them…
Billy Rain began to suspect the intruder was a Goldilocks figure – Don’t be silly, Billy! Affrighted of storybook characters!
He got to his knees and then to his feet, using the staff of his pike as an aid. A pair of blue eyes stared at him from the shadows beneath the four-poster’s canopy, two turquoise gems resting on velvet.
“Your Highness,” Billy cleared his throat and bowed as much as his armour would allow. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I heard a noise.”
The Infanta did not respond. But then she wouldn’t, would she, he remembered? Ever since her rescue, Svetlana Fireblast had not uttered a word. The castle was rife with rumour. She’d be better off if those louts had murdered her, the poor lamb, the lesser folk gossiped. Instead of being shut up in her room, shut up in herself, all dead on the inside.
Billy Rain approached the bed. The Infanta was propped up on pillows, her face pallid and expressionless, her mouth slack and her eyes – those brilliant jewels – unmoving and unblinking.
“I thought happed I’d better check it out,” said Billy. “The noise. Looks to me like somebody didn’t want their porridge.”
Behind him, the door slammed shut. He almost jumped out of his armour.
A draught, happen… But no; all the casements were shut and curtained. Billy Rain was at a loss.
The Infanta didn’t seem to know he was there. He dared to wave his gauntleted hand in front of her eyes.
He sighed and reckoned he ought to get back to his post. And to think, I’d been mithered about being stuck indoors for a few hours!
The door wouldn’t open, pull on it as he might. He tried to prise it open with his pikestaff but the weapon was torn from his grasp by an unseen hand. It flew across the room and directly into the forehead of a portrait of Lady Fireblast.
On the bed, the Infanta did not, could not, move. But her eyes were shining a little brighter.
“You did that?” gasped Billy Rain. “And I reckon you chucked your breakfast at the wall an’ all.”
Svetlana Fireblast said nothing, did nothing. But the porridge on the wall began to shift and crawl. Billy Rain watched, transfixed, as a message took form.
WHY BRING ME BACK? I WAS RUNNING AWAY
Billy Rain’s jaw dropped and his knees buckled.
What the hell was he supposed to do now?