6 years passed, as I grew into a young man in the household of Lord Lucas, he had taken me under his wing, I trained in sword craft with the master at arms, and mixed with both the veterans of Lord Lucas and the servants who maintained the manor, I grew close to the girl Jessica and we would often sneak out into the orchards at night and stare at the stars and talk of our homes, she was from Okerta and had been taken in by the master when her parents had died of the pestilence.

        I stepped into the recovery position, surrounded by the groaning dualists, it was the end of the day and I had just bested three of Lucas’s dualists, the personal guard of any noble, at hand to hand fighting and I was feeling pretty cocky. I looked up at the slow sarcastic clapping of Lucas as he entered the courtyard.

“Good Tulip, very good,” he continued to approach, the dualists had stood and we all bowed low to our master,

“Thank you master,” I remained bowing waiting for permission to stand straight, Lucas waived his arm gently, and I stood again, heading over to my tunic where it lay discarded on the cobbles, surrounding the sand training pit. I pulled on the silk tunic, and clamped the steel collar of Lucas’s warriors around my neck. The collars not only showed we belonged to Lucas but they also served to protect us from attempts to strangle and strikes at our necks, mine had already saved me from a savage wolf, when I had been on patrol in the orchards during the last winter.

“Leave us” He dismissed the dualists, who bowed again and closed the doors to the courtyard heading their separate ways. “Come show me what you can do” I looked at my master slightly wary,

“But master it is forbidden for me to strike you” was he testing me?

“Why do you think I sent away the dualists? Now attack me I dare you”

“As you wish master” I lunged forward attempting to wind him, but in a flurry of movement he parried and tripped me, I landed face in the sand, he rolled me over with his boot, beaming he offered me his hand. I grasped his wrist sticking my foot into his stomach, I pulled in his arm flipping him over my head sending him sprawling. I laughed a little, but my glee vanished when he remained still. I was standing above him. “Master are you alright” he didn’t respond, I got down on my knees bending over him, I listened to his breathing, it was strong and steady. Suddenly he grabbed my arms rolling me over, I was immobilised, staring up into his eyes, I struggled slightly, but he took both my wrists in one of his hands and used his thighs to hold my legs in place. He gently stroked my check with his free hand, brushing a strand of stray hair from my face. “Master?” I croaked, confused by the soft look in his eyes, his gaze met mine, I struggled again. “Master, you win, I surrender to you,” he arched his eyebrow.

Lucas looked up at a voice from behind the double doorway, which led into Lucas’s private armoury and in turn the rest of the house.

“Master Lucas! A messenger has arrived from Humming-field.” I took advantage of his distraction and bucked my body, hurling him off me and sending him sprawling once again. In an instant we were both up, circling a few paces from each other.

“I congratulate you tulip, now I must go and deal with our guest. I trust you will be joining me for dinner tonight, and why not bring the lovely Jessica along, you two are the talk of the household.” I blushed and bowed, waiting as Lucas slipped into the manor. I stood in the empty yard questions swimming through my mind. Why had he fought me? Why did he invite me to dinner I was just a lowly servant without a title yet? And why was there faint mutterings coming from the barracks doorway. I rested my ear to the doorway; I smiled slightly as I heard my friends bickering.

“Shut up, Jeon, they’ll hear us.” I heard Vincent, another recruit, mutter. I pulled the doors wide open, grinning at the small crowd of Lucas’s ‘finest’ soldiers, as they stumbled forward.

“Spies” I beamed

“Tu, it’s not what it looks...” Jeon, my foolhardy brainless friend, began, until the beefy and scar riddled Garth smacked him round the back of the head. He offered me an apologetic smile.

“Its exactly what it looks like, we were making sure the master wasn’t going to hurt our little princess.” At this the crowd burst out laughing at my frown. Garth waited until the laughing simmered down, and had to strike Jeon again when he laughed slightly too long. “So what did the master want?”

“Not much really, he just wanted to congratulate me and invite me to dine with him this evening.” I frowned again as Oker’s ‘proud’ warriors giggled like little girls.

“Alright, you horrible lot” Garth bellowed, “Piss off and perform your duties!” Garth turned back to me as the men hurried off to either go on patrol or finish any chores they had left over. “ah not you Tulip, you’re going to get presentable for fine dining.”

A few hours later at dusk I was stood in the small hallway which stood between the men’s and women’s quarters for the young members of the household. I had combed and un-braided my hair, and it was neatly hanging down my back, Juilet had fussed for hours on my hair, combing it countless times. I had dressed in my finest clothes, which was a long dark red tunic lined with black, the tunic was part of my dress uniform, it had the Oker symbol emblazed on it, and I had also removed my normal collar for its formal counterpart, which was a thin strip of leather, tied at the back, with the emblem was gently etched in. I looked up from my dull but immaculate leather boots to the sound of giggling.

Out of the girls dorm, walked a beautifully adorned Jessica, she wore a pink apple blossom in her dirty blond hair, which has been painstakingly braided, I guessed by the half a dozen girls who stood in the doorway giggling amongst themselves. Jessica closed the door behind her and turned to me smiling. She did a little twirl her kimono was a simple but elegant pink and white affair.

“Beautiful.” I muttered quietly scuffing my boot slightly.

 Jessica frowned and came over to me wrapping me in a hug. I let out a slight sob, hopping it wouldn’t make my eye’s redden. “I’m sorry.” I said pulling away

“Tulip, I haven’t forgotten, it was six years today that you came here, you miss your family, I know. The master knows, this is probably why he invited you today.” Jessica, my closet friend, gently pecked my cheek. I returned her smile and offered her my arm; she took it with a smile, “So my dashing knight shall we go to dinner?”

We made our way through the manor towards the dining hall, slipping into the empty room and standing, both feeling awkward, awaiting our lord’s arrival. “Why is the table set for four?” Jessica whispered to me. Before I could answer the far doors, leading from Lucas’s study, were flung open and Lucas, in a purple robe stepped in. he was engrossed in a conversation with a bear of a man, dressed in riding breeches and a green tunic.

“...and then the good lady said; “what a delicious swan!”” at this both men burst into laughter Lucas turned from his guest beaming, and met my eyes, he winked. The pair walked towards Jessica and I. “My lord, may I introduce two fine members of my household; Tulip Konos Vas Lucas and Jessica Crane Vas Lucas, Jessica, Tulip this is Demetrius Demetrius Vas Demetrius, first son of Demetrius Demetrius Vra Demetrius and heir to the Demetrius family, all fine warriors to his grace the emperor.” Yeah I forgot to mention, nobles had awkward names, with the first son taking the name of the family, meaning first, family and bond names were all the same.

Jessica and I both bowed and the four of us sat down to dinner. Demetrius was a warm man, who despite the social boundaries was willing to engage with Jessica and myself, prompting bursts of laughter from the small party. Occasionally I would see Lucas looking at me across the table, but he would always look away when I glanced at him. When the final course had been cleared away by servants, whom I rubbed shoulders with on any other day; Jessica and I were listening, wide-eyed as Demetrius described his battle with the ferocious dessert dwellers of what were now the eastern provinces. Lucas was sat quietly nodding slightly and gently sipping from his wine glass. He piped up when Demetrius had finished his story.

“Marvellous my lord, but I fear my good matron would like us to vacate the dining hall so she could clear it away in preparation for the night. May I suggest we say goodnight and head for bed.”

“Yes I am rather full after a such a delicious feast, my regards to the cook, I shall take my leave, farewell gentlemen and my lady” Demetrius bowed and departed heading towards the guest quarters. Jessica and I thanked Lucas and made our way to the door.

“Tulip,” It turned back to Lucas “I word in my study alone if you please, goodnight Jessica, thank you for a thrilling dinner.” I followed Lucas into his small study. The walls were covered with shelves holding books and scrolls. But I was too tired to examine the room further. I took the wine I was offered graciously as Lucas closed and bolted the oak door. He then headed over and fed some logs into the fire, replacing the grate. He sat on a cushion in front of the fire. “Please sit” He indicated the other cushion; I sat and took a sip of my wine. We talked about things such as the weather and eventually we moved onto the topic of my village, my tongue loosened by the wine Lucas was so generous with, poured story after story of my life in the village out.

“And when I was 7 me and Blare were throwing looking for frogs beside the river, wh...” I trailed off when Lucas placed his finger on my lips. I stared into his eyes.

“You talk so very much Tulip” Lucas said, his brown eyes boring into mine. “You are far prettier when you’re quiet”

“Tulip...” I leapt to my feet stumbling into the corner, my eyes searching widely around for the shadows. “You can’t run Tulip, I’m inside you. You’ll never escape me,”

“Go away!” I screamed into the air, curling into a ball in the corner. I began to cry, was I going mad.

“Not mad, just lost” I sobbed louder, as Lucas wrapped me in a hug, gently stroking the back of my head.

 “I know about the voice you hear, and all about the daemon.” At this I uncurled and buried myself in his chest the both of us still sitting.

“Master please, make it stop I’m so scared.” Lucas gently cupped my cheek and I looked into his eyes,

“Block it out, focus on me” I nodded and stared into Lucas’s eyes. My eyes still open I willed the voice away. Cackling filled my mind,

“You can’t push me away” I focused harder on my master, only thinking of him, the day we met, his scent his smile. “No!” the voice was stronger now; my mind’s eye began to darken. “your sight will forever be darkened if you persist.” I focused harder, and the voice grew quieter, almost a whisper. “so be it, until you need me, white tulip” suddenly the everything was dark, I couldn’t see, I closed my eyes, then opened them again, but I saw no change, just the impenetrable blackness.

“Master... I c...can’t see” I whispered I felt Lucas breath in deeply, and then out again.

“I’m sorry Tulip, I was too late, is should have induced this sooner, but you were so young, your too young now.”

“I don’t understand, master. Why can’t I see, has the fire died.”

“No tulip, the fire is strong, your blind.” At this my heart began to beat faster.

“No master, don’t toy with me, please, is scared, stop playing.”

“I’m not playing tulip, I let you down.” At this I felt him hold me tighter to his chest, and I grasped onto his shirt for all I was worth, I couldn’t let go.

The End

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