Huddled in the corner, freezing, starving, eating away at the damp air that slowly soaked my clothes. Death had come quickly to the family, taken by the angel of the night. But now I sat alone, surrounded by people, but alone.
“Jessamine.” His voice was as rough as mine, both of us had shed tears all day but my voice had broken long before his. My uncle, Alfrae, a tired scruffy man with such little to his name I doubt he would be able to feed me for more than a week. I didn’t want to face him, I didn’t want to leave my little patch of darkness where I waited for my angel to deliver me from this pain. But I must.
“Uncle.” He lifted me, struggling even against my slight frame; he hadn’t been able to work for so long. Leaning against the wall I supported myself until he tugged me forward.
“Come child.” I knew we had spent enough coin in this tavern, remembering my, our family; he hadn’t drank much but still he swayed slightly. Succumbing to the lack of food within him. “It is time you know.”
My uncle often spoke in riddles, half the time he sounded more confused by them than we did. But the familiar look of confusion didn’t dance across his face tonight, merely sombre eyes and sunken cheeks me my gaze.
The path to my new home was not far, no longer did I hold residence in the upper quarter where I would be invited to great parties. Now I stayed in a small room above a small shop, in the corner of a small street. The air around me was too still. No hustle of passing cabins, no horses flicking their tails to create the faintest breeze through the street. There were no plants, nothing green. Only brown.
No wonder he looked so sunken.
“I will die soon child. You know it as well as I.” It was true, there was no denying it. We had predicted he wouldn’t make it to winter, yet alone through it. “I stopped caring about death long ago child, the angel is welcome here. But only for me.” He gave the faintest smile, no teeth, no more than a flicked or a half-wasted muscle.
“The angel comes for all.” There was no denying after the events of the last few weeks, practically my whole family gone in one fateful night.
“I kept something. Something of your father’s.” He trundled off in search of this item that my father once owned, glancing around the room there couldn’t be anything in here that he had owned. Father wouldn’t glance at a seat without a cover, a vase without decoration, a plate without stacks of food. Father was born rich and died rich. “He gave it me the day he married your mother.”
His voice carried from the only other room in the building. Followed by the light clatter of moving objects. The item had been hidden, for what reason I never knew.
“He told me, he told me that if he and your mother. Well, he thought I would be alone I guess. But, child this doesn’t belong to me. You are his heir. It is yours.” He handed the shaking box to me, cracked and caked in years of dust and dirt. “Be careful with it child.” I don’t even think he meant to say that out loud.
Peeling back the lid the glitter of light inside hurt my eyes. The tiniest gasp left my lips, matching his own. “Uncle.”
“Be careful with it child. Our whole family is linked to that tiny piece of glass.” I had never seen glass shine like that, shaped into a small hammer.
The hammer was the family symbol, because we had forged our dynasty on the backs brows of our ancestors. I didn’t know this existed.
“When I’m gone Jess, you take that glass hammer to the King.” Carefully he forced the lid closed. “You take it to him and you call in his debt.”
“What?” I had never heard of the King owing us any debt. The King does not owe debts to his citizens.
“Child, your father. He saved the King’s life.” That was impossible. Father had never mentioned, he wouldn’t keep a story like that hidden for all my years. “The King swore that if our family needed help, by presenting him with the hammer you will be protected all your life long.”
Placing the fragile box onto the floor, he pulled me into the tightest hug he could muster. “You will become a Princess of the court child, that is what he promised your father; that our family would become his family.”
“I.” I didn’t know what to think.
“Your father, he gave it to me. Not to take to the King. But people wanted to steal it. It doesn’t matter who delivers it really. But that fragile little thing in there is the biggest treasure in the kingdom.” His chin hit the top of my head sharply as he talked. “I kept it hidden for him and when you were born, he came here.” Tears flowed into my hair. “He turned up out of the blue and told me about you. Told me to look after you if I could, if anything happened. But if I couldn’t. The box. The hammer. The King.”
“Uncle.” Tears wouldn’t come, but the shudder in my chest pulled at every breath.
“We have cried enough child, it is time to sleep.” Giving me the tatters of the bed, he perched in his chair. “I feel an old friend will visit tonight child.” He closed his eyes and I tried to do the same.
By the time morning rose above the windows the angel had indeed visited, Uncle lay quiet and motionless. A small smile still on his face. A single tear I allowed before grabbing the box and hurrying into the early morning hew.
My uncle’s promise rang true. The King shed a tear in front of his whole court, women gasped as the king knelt before me and pulled hard against his chest. I hadn’t bathed since the funeral, my clothes were filthy and I felt bugs crawling over me. But yet he held me close.
“Your father has kept that for almost three decades. The debt was never forgotten.” I nodded, I had never spoken to Royalty before and my tongue had escaped my use the moment the glass hammer was removed from it’s box.
“Let all here bear witness. For the preservation of my life, her father sacrificed so much. For this and his many many years of service to me and my crown, his child Jessamine Clawton will now become Princess Jessamine of the Crown.” His fingers brushed my chin. “You are my daughter. Not by blood but by soul and by heart.”
At that he kissed my forehead and I was quickly thrown into the largest bath I had ever seen. Perhaps one day the King will tell me what my father did, and what exactly he gave up.