Carlone was immediately rushed into a meeting she would have preferred to never have had. The two men she was to report directly to were the Captain and the Lieutenant. She was nonchalantly greeted by the heavily muscled men when she entered. While there, Carlone could only think about how unsafe she felt during the exchange as if the men were holding themselves back from attacking her despite the spoken formalities. The Captain was middle-aged in years, while the Lieutenant was in his late twenties. Both towered over the athletic in her own right Carlone as they stood over her to speak, always failing to properly hide their clenched white knuckles from her view. As she found out, Carlone was expected to for all accounts train and keep up the appearance of being a member of the Queen's guard, even though she was never to be anywhere near the Queen. She was told in fact to discreetly turn away in the opposite direction if she ever found herself to be in the Queen's path. Still, Carlone was given an official uniform all the same. This perplexed the girl because she knew she was not supposed to ever perform the task that guards do, which was to keep watch. For her trouble, she would be paid a handsome amount each week, as well as the standard room and board that the guards receive. Carlone realized quickly she was both living her wildest dream and biggest nightmare due to this arrangement. The one truth she could sort out from all of the overly tooth-baring smiles or misleading assignments was that she was now entangled in an environment that could be dangerous if she ever fell out of favor, deadly even.
Introductions soon turned into her routine and Carlone understood that the Regent was right about her schedule in the castle. Her day consisted of morning training with the guards, which was mostly to exercise, maintain the other's gear, or learn basic defense tactics. This lasted until the sun was down. After that time she was to "study" with the castle staff on etiquette. This involved Carlone eating dinner with the kitchen workers, and then preparing the guard's watch stations for the next day. Effectively, Carlone was the equivalent of a squire except that her quarters were not in the guard's barracks. Instead, she resided in the guest's wing of the castle. It was here that her room had a pathway that the Regent would enter from during the night. Carlone enjoyed their engagements just for the company alone as she was never truly accepted by any of the staff or guards. However, after a few months, she began to find that her relationship with the Regent was not much of a relationship at all. She was a body, nothing more for him to use. Whenever she tried to develop their connection she was met with a flood of excuses from the Regent, each too flimsy to hold up under scrutiny. He did not want to plan a future with her or take her to any place outside of the bedroom, which hurt her once she realized this.
Much to her shame, Carlone soon found that she and the Regent's supposedly "secret" encounters were frequently gossiped about. There were whispers of disgust with her in the beginning. Then those whispers eventually became loud public taunts toward Carlone about her lack of chastity among the staff. Be it in the training sessions, when she was working, or even just eating alone off to the side of the kitchen, she received no peace from the subject as it was always thrown in her face by someone over something. Initially, Carlone was too shocked to think about it. Later she was too embarrassed or scared to address it at all. For as much as the Regent reassured Carlone that theirs was a common arrangement, it did little to help her when she realized she had become the castle's brightly labeled whore. It wasn't long before Carlone felt suffocatingly isolated there. Oddly this did not dampen her affection for the Regent, despite the negative consequences that only she seemed to bear. Rather the effect was that her status as a social pariah increased her attachment to him all the more. For his part in it, the Regent simply found Carlone to be less appealing the more that she was torn into by the people she sought to innocuously interact with. He reacted with disdain when she would cry to him or beg his help. To him, she was more lowly when she suffered at the hands of others. He was offended by her need to be saved. As a result, his attraction to her visibly waned, and his visits to her fewer. Leaving Carlone to worry by herself in his absence, doubting if she should stay or run away in the night.
By the summer's arrival in the Capital, Carlone had developed the habit of finding any excuse to be sent on some lowly task to be away from the castle during the day. No guard would ever be asked to do a servant's work, yet there she was running the errand of going to the market to find a silversmith to craft a banister topper. Carlone was sure to take her time there no matter the reason. She knew full well that she was essentially a concubine to the Regent, who would not be able to visit with her until after his daily duties were completed if he visited at all. These thoughts rolled within her mind as she wandered through the market, keeping her head down as she had become accustomed to. Her confidence and self-reliance were now totally erased. She was nearly lost among the bustling of commerce due to her state of fretting over her now plateaued love life. She wondered if she would be lavishly sent away when the Regent found another consort or if it would be a more violent end to their affair when he was done with her. The obvious assumption here was that she would not be the one to have much say on when or how things would end, she was under the Regent's authority. She feared if she left she would be treated as a deserting guard and not the neglected lover she had become. As she came to this striking conclusion over her own fate it dawned on her that her beloved Regent may very well already be with someone new, and her time already up with him.
Her feet were almost subconsciously walking her toward the roadway by the city's edge, instead of to the market where her intentions were when the day began. This was not the first time this had happened. Carlone swallowed hard as she held her pouch full of silver. "No one would be sad if I went away to the farm or the coast," she mused to herself. However, before she could decide to follow through with her thoughts, she bumped into none other than old Mox on the street. She did not recognize him until she apologized for her clumsiness, noticing it was him by the familiar sack he had slung over his shoulder. Carlone greeted him, not sure if he would remember her, "I see you are going out of town?" She said to Mox who turned to her with a look of shock on his face. "Little Carlone, you have grown up!" He exclaimed as he remembered her. He kept walking as he spoke, motioning for her to follow him. "I had heard about you in the castle with the Regent," Mox said in a hushed tone. "Be careful, the Queen is vengeful. You are not his first conquest." Carlone felt uncomfortable with Mox saying this to her. She had not been aware that he was working in the castle until then or if the news of her relationship was circulating through the entire city. She went to change the subject by saying, "Mox, why are you leaving in such a hurry? Won't you slow down to talk to me?" She asked as she stepped quickly to keep up with him. "Girly now's not the time to stay on. You should come with me. There's talk of a peace breakdown between the royals and the mountain country. They owe money, too much to ever pay back. You best be moving on before they come to collect it." Carlone tried to get Mox to explain what he meant further, nevertheless, he would only answer with "I know what I know." Carlone could tell that he was too set on exiting the city to be stopped, so she waved to him farewell before she turned to go back to the market. Her feelings for the Regent had gotten the better of her. When the actual opportunity came to leave him, she could not go without saying her parting words to the man when she saw him next.
As foreboding as her encounter with Mox had been, it was also a relief in a way to see someone from her past. This gave Carlone a bit of nostalgia to lift her out of her depression. She could not greet Buloke who had become a jack of all trades within the castle and tended to pass through, for fear that he would deemed an outcast too if he were a known associate of her's. There was one person whom she felt she could not harm with her bad reputation: their missing travel companion, Dowson. Carlone walked the solid half-hour across the city streets to the tavern where she had last seen the young man. There she discovered that Dowson had become quite the well-known fighter, but not well respected. The barkeep explained that Dowson had been thrown out some weeks ago for fixing fights and to seek him out near the prison. Carlone could not believe that the sweet quiet boy she had known had turned into a person the likes of which even other thugs would not tolerate.
For no reason other than to see with her own eyes if it were true, Carlone sought out Dowson the next day. She had waited for the Regent to come to her room all the night before, but he did not for the second full week in a row. She made a promise to herself that if he did not visit her again the following week she would depart, goodbyes or no. Her query took her to a region of the city few would go if they were decent, Carlone was not concerned by this. There is a filthy eatery that only a pig would find suitable the drunken Dowson sleeping hunched over a table. The server had to point him out to her as she walked about the place. Carlone saw that he was much bigger but also brutalized by his time in the Capital throwing fists for cash each night until he faltered. Carlone was instantly saddened because his face was battered from the months of fighting. He never stopped since she saw him last. She had assumed that he would have either gone home to his mother or the castle for work when she did not see him among the workers she expected he had completed the ladder of his options.
Carlone bought him some sobering tea, as he stank of alcohol enough to notice from across the table. She did not know if he would hate her or be glad she came so she was particularly cautious with him. After some dancing around the subject, Carlone became blunt and asked him about his life since they had seen each other last. From there Dowson wove a tale of how he became the kind of man that he had fought first, someone who looked for uneven matches to gain any advantage and win for cash. Dowson explained that in the beginning, he wanted to prove he was the stronger man after the embarrassment of defeat he felt at losing in his earlier days. Then he started to get desperate for money and lodging causing his morals to slip a little more each day until he had none to stop him anymore. Carlone was horrified knowing she was the one who originally pressured Dowson into fighting. Dowson finished by saying he hated himself for what he had become and that those around him never let him forget that he was considered the lowest of all the types of fighters.
Carlone could not help but feel responsible for his downfall. In a moment of pure regret and also sympathy or possibly comradery, Carlone let out that she had become the Regent's licit consort and was hated among the castle staff. The emotion of it all caught up with her as she spoke, knowing the extent to which she lost respect for herself as if all of her achievements and accomplishments of her past now meant nothing. Dowson put down his drink to ask why she stayed on there if she felt so badly about it. She sighed that she could not bring herself to leave because she was stupidly waiting for the Regent to love her back even though she knew it would always be one-sided. Dowson nodded in agreement lamenting he too was ashamed to go back to his mother knowing he no longer was the fresh-faced boy who left her. He said this as he touched his now crooked nose and licked his cracked teeth.
In an attempt to console him, Carlone told Dowson that he's only temporarily down on his luck after too bad many fights. "I could offer you work at the castle, but I fear you would be looked down on for being an associate of mine." Dowson in turn replied to her that he wanted to bring his name out of the mud and reenter the tavern boxing circuit but this time honorably before he would go home to face his family. Carlone smiled because she could help him in this endeavor. The only thing she had to give from her life in the castle was a full pouch of coins to use. Not that the money did her any good, no amount of cash could fix the damage that her relationship with the Regent had done to her name. Her money was not good often, making it all the easier to hand over to the young man. With it, he could buy his way into sanctioned matches once more. A few bribes would be needed on Dowson's part, but she was sure that she wouldn't need to vocalize this to someone who was dying to do so for this long. Dowson looked at the silver inside of the pouch twice he did not bother to put up the pretense of giving it back to her. He squeezed it, as he pushed aside his drink and thanked her profusely. Hoping to come off as helpful Carlone patted his back saying to him "The people who judge you are wrong. I owe you this. I should never have told you to fight when we were down on our luck. Do me this kindness of taking this money." Dowson of course did so excitedly. Neither one lingered when they parted ways feeling some sort of rare optimism for their uncertain futures.
That night at the castle, the Regent visited Carlone for the first time in many days. When she reached for him, the Regent brushed her aside. This signaled to Carlone that something was wrong. "Are you angry with me for some reason?" She asked him. The Regent turned away from her, "Yes, you were supposed to have given me a child by now, yet you show no signs of ever being about to do so." His words were dripping with malice toward her as he spoke. "You not only can't give me a child, but you now use your pay to give to disgraced boxers?" This hurt Carlone deeply as she had always hoped that the Regent had feelings for her, but he did not trust her enough to allow her to leave the castle without her being watched. This revelation between them indicated to Carlone that she was merely a piece of meat owned by him and that to him she was not fulfilling an expected output he had never explained he wanted of her. She tried to talk to the Regent, but he left just as quickly as he had come. Leaving Carlone rejected, and alone in that chilly room. Maybe he would come back to her when he was no longer angry, she hoped as she sobbed to herself in her bed.
In the morning as she readied herself for her day pretending that her exchange with the Regent would come to nothing. This was interrupted though when there came a knock at her bedroom door from Rhett who was to take her to see the Queen. Carlone finished putting on her uniform and tied back her hair, all the while thinking that this might be the day she died. They walked together in silence down corridors that Carlone was forbidden from entering. Rhett was neither her friend nor her adversary. He was the Regent's manservant, who dealt with Carlone as if she were an errand to manage versus being a person. However, when he knocked and announced Carlone's entrance to the Queen's study, he looked at Carlone with pity, something he had never done before.
Carlone by that time was well acquainted with the castle's protocol to properly greet the Queen with a bent knee and bowed head. The Queen though wanted to look at the person her husband had been wasting so much time on. "Hello, quarry girl." The Queen stated as she sized Carlone up. Carlone tried to stand up straight and hide her shaking hands behind her back as she looked to the Queen but did not answer. The Queen continued "My first child, a boy looks just like his father, the man you know as the Regent." Carlone wanted to look down at the floor again but held her place like a deer in headlights as the Queen went on. The Regent had told Carlone that the Queen's children were not his. She wondered why he had lied or if the Queen was lying now. "I had quite the difficult birth with my children, the last one in particular." The Queen pointed to a painting on the study's wall showing them seated in front of a fireplace. Carlone dared not say a word but quivered as she waited for the Queen to get to her point. The Queen could see this and smirked a little at it. "When I found out that my husband's fling was brazen enough to seek work in my castle, I had you summoned by him. I delegate my tasks being the person of high standing that I am." Carlone felt a hint of insecurity in the Queen's wording as she stated that. The Queen was rubbing it in as she was circling Carlone, a bit too much. Still, Carlone was fully aware that the Queen was a snap of her fingers from a guard putting her away in prison forever. "And yet here we are, my husband who has fathered a child before, now can not father one with a sturdy girl like you. It is not him my dear, but you that is the problem. He has wasted too much time on you already, so your use here is extinguished as your presence is to be as well." The Queen then called to the guard posted outside now that she was done belittling Carlone. The guard grabbed Carlone by the neck and dragged her down to the dungeon. Carlone passed out from the lack of oxygen on the way.
When she awoke, Carlone realized that she was on the cobblestone floor of a holding cell. The Regent was kicking her feet with his velvet shoes and flicking dirty water from a nearby bucket at her. "I see the guard was rough with you" He crouched down to her as he spoke, looking at the bruises on her neck. Carlone had too much of a headache to focus on him at first. The room felt like it was spinning to her. "Are you here to let me out?" She was finally able to ask him, her voice was sore from being choked. "No, my dear. This may very well be our last meeting. I risk myself in being here even now." The Regent muttered as he stepped back from Carlone who was taking in her surroundings as she sat up. "Why him? Why the boxer?" The Regent questioned her with an inflection of indignance, subsequently letting her know that this had nothing to do with her lack of a pregnancy. "He's a family friend, I was trying to help. Nothing more." Carlone answered. The Regent huffed as if to himself, "Well, I hope he was worth it because now I can't help you anymore. The Queen is not a person I have any influence over and to be honest, I'm unsure of what is to become of you. I dare not interfere." Carlone's eyes widened as she realized he was there to gloat at her circumstance, not to aid her in any way. "Goodbye my dear," the Regent said as the guard locked the door behind him as he left but not before he kicked her away from the cell's entrance into the bucket of sour water which caused it to tip over and seep into the ground. Carlone crawling begged, "Wait, please help me!" As the Regent turned back she could see he was wearing a frown "I'm sorry, I just can't do that." Then he coldly turned around as if they had never met before and walked off, not looking back again. Carlone proceeded to have a panic attack on the floor of her cell knowing she was doomed.