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The Moonstone Heiress- Chapter Twelve: Traveled Roads

That first night Carlone cried herself into a stupor. It was not until rationalizing to the point of delusion that she forced herself to believe that the Regent would release her after he began to miss her. A day and a half without food or water began to sober Carlone's senses once more regarding her situation and she understood she was being left to die alone. It was a perfect way to dispose of her; there had been no trial or any formal execution, because she was the hidden woman, one that even the Queen did not want to be known to her people. Only for a mere second did it pass within her thoughts that Carlone realized that had she fallen pregnant with the Regent's child the infant would likely have been taken from her and delivered to the monarchy for them to continue their charade of a perfect family. She would either have the same fate to die imprisoned or worse to be kept on as breeding stock if her offspring were well-liked enough by Her Majesty. Concerns of this matter were of no consequence to Carlone once the pain of thirst for water made her wary. Her voice became faint from yelling for the guard to help her. Instead, she gave up, opting to rest until she was either dead or someone had the decency to kill her for her second night in her cell. It was on the early morning of the third day of her incarceration that Carlone lost consciousness after feverishly attempting to yank the bars from her cell apart enough for her to slip through. When she came to she was in a sack within a barrel feeling half suffocated. She was too dazed to know then that she had been recused.

Carlone awoke on a hay mat in a damp cellar on the fourth day after her dismissal. There was a mug of freshwater by her side, which she drank so quickly she nearly vomited from inhaling it. Her coughing must have alerted others to her presence because shortly after none other than young Dowson entered. "Got yourself in over your head, I heard," Dowson tried to joke as he plopped down on the dirt floor across from Carlone. She responded to his entry with a weak, "How?" Dowson shuffled himself around in his spot as if he were mulling over in his head the simplest explanation to give to her. "I bought myself into a match with your money. I won the prize pouch and all the money I bet on myself too. It was enough to pay you back, which I did...well, I tried to anyway. You see when I went to the castle to ask for you no one knew where you were. Then Buloke caught up with me at the Tavern later and low and behold, you had been thrown out with the rubbish. They thought you were dead. So we picked you up and took you here. No one is looking for you, the guards think you died yesterday and that your body was burnt with the rest of the trash from the castle last night." With this revelation, Carlone was equally utterly dehumanized and oddly appreciative at that moment. The greatest parlor trick ever passed off at the castle was her coming back from the dead. She grinned to herself for the first time in her life when she considered however morbidly that this had not been her only death. Dowson looked confused, "what are you thinking?" He wondered out loud to her. She looked back at him, while still lying down from being too weakened to sit up on her own yet for an extended period, and said, "I'm hungry" Dowson laughed as if all the tension in the room was broken. "I'll get you some stew."

Carlone felt as if she were coming out of a deep illness over the next two days, but she dragged herself to her feet regardless to get out of the city by nightfall. She was sure to only travel when the moon was absent from the night's cloud-filled sky. She did not want to risk being spotted, knowing she was the now-dead infamous Regent's mistress. It was too dangerous for her to risk being sighted. Buloke and Dowson had risked their lives for her, she would not repay them by revealing herself. She was not unaccompanied on her flight from the city, Dowson went with her. He had finally had his fill of the Capital too. Each traveler had been used up and spit out of that horrible place. Both knew it was time to cut their losses rather than continue to suffer there. There was no beating the Capital because there was nothing to win. The longer any soul stayed the more the Capital took of their morals. Only the wrongdoers of the world found a place like that enticing.

They planned that they were to meet Buloke on the old roads at the halfway point between the Capital and the coast. Buloke had his reasons for wanting to leave. The castle having been labeled as a far more generous employer in reputation than in truth was his excuse, but as Dowson explained to Carlone, talks of the city being attacked were mounting. Mox was not the only conspiracy theorist who believed that the defunct royals were soon to fall. Their titles carried no power, leaving nothing to stop the Mountain Country from sending an army to collect what was owed. Dowson detailed how the Mountain Country's military had been growing in numbers from conscription service due to all those who fled North after the fever broke out. Anyone who wanted citizenship in the Mountain Country, which was the only way to be allowed to marry, have their children attend legal schooling, work legally, or own land was mandated to sign up for and complete a term in the military.

Carlone slowly perked up in tandem with the amount of space she had away from the castle. Her beloved pastime of foraging made her start to feel like the person she saw herself as opposed to the person she was told she was by her naysayers. Swift steps took them to their meeting place where the equally punctual Buloke was waiting. The comfort of their reunion was immediately dampened when Buloke blurted out how he overheard during his usual porter duties in the castle that an army of over ten thousand men was marching toward the castle at that very moment. With this, he gestured for Carlone and Dowson to follow him. Buloke led them to a campsite where many of the castle staff were huddled together in the dark daring not to make a campfire, knowing if they were discovered they would be executed. Carlone recognized some of her former hecklers among the bunch, who upon being noticed appeared more surprised than embarrassed seeing her. Dowson counted ninety-nine in total. A few dozen were fellow porters and maids with their children, another dozen were elderly parents, and the rest were day laborers who had inconsistent work in the castle depending on the surrounding events. All were individuals who knew that in an attack they would not survive. Carlone was taken aback by this new development in their plan. Without having to speak a word Buloke put up his hands saying "Sure if we are found out we are all dead, but right now the castle guards have more to do than look for us." Carlone wanted to chide him but knew she was too indebted to Buloke for carrying her out of her cell after stuffing her body into a barrel to criticize the man, so she hugged him instead to hide the look of dissatisfaction on her lips.

Not wasting time, the three hurriedly worked out how they would manage their changed situation. Dowson and Buloke were to go to the coast to be with their families after they took the defectors to the abandoned village Carlone had slept the night in all those years ago when she came from her family's farm to Buloke's family inn. "Can they march?" Dowson asked looking at some of the more dismal of the stowaways. "Yes, and I'll be in the back making sure no one is left behind," Buloke reassured him. With that Dowson and Carlone looked at each other knowing that although Buloke had been loved by those he interacted with within the Capital, their experiences were far less rosy. Buloke may have been the hero of the castle, but as far as Carlone was concerned, she would have left the staffers at the mercy of the Mountain Country's army as she felt they deserved. "These people were the ones to throw us to the dogs and now we are leading them with great danger to ourselves? I don't like it." Dowson murmured under his breath, Carlone tipped her chin toward him as if to signal her agreement with him.

In the back of the group, the three walked making sure no traitors doubled back to the castle to report their whereabouts. Carlone kept her head down and face covered, with her beloved moonstone necklace tucked away to protect her identity. Buloke spoke of his fear that a coup d'etat and subsequent occupation of the Capital could spread to the smaller townships.

As he prattled on about future possibilities Carlone tried to fight the urge to go back. Her thoughts were consumed by worries that the Regent needed help. It was Dowson who noticed that she was dragging her feet when he asked if she was feeling ill she responded with the truth of what she was thinking. "What will happen to the Regent if the royals fall?" Carlone wondered aloud. Buloke scoffed at her question before replying, "he is a royal. Their fate is his fate." Knowing the point Carlone was circling Dowson became angry with her and harshly reminded her of her place by saying "he left you for dead and allowed you to be thrown out like garbage. Anything bad that happens to him is not a tragedy." This hurt Carlone who still believed somewhere in the Regents' heart that she had a place. She retorted to Dowson's snide remark "He's not just some nobody from a pub. I know the restrictions his station put him under. He had to have made it that easy for me to be saved. Why else did they not wait longer after leaving me in that cell? I'm not just some whor-" Buloke interrupted her there, "Because everyone knew what had happened to you on the first day. The guards laughed about it. They said 'the Regents whore' was finally done and they no longer had to babysit you. I found out and kept tabs until it was safe to get you after the Lieutenant gave me the key to your cell with the instructions to throw you in the burn pit the second you were dead. The Regent was playing with his kids the whole time by his wife's side. He never asked about you once." Carlone stopped in her tracks, tears rushed to her eyes as she swallowed hard not wanting to hear what Buloke had to say yet he went on anyway "I'm only telling you this because it would be wrong to let you assume that the man who used you up and let the world treat you like scum get false credit for looking out for you. Carlone, he never did. His actions are that of a bastard who has no value for human life, especially yours." Carlone went to try to say something but Dowson interjected seeing her shaking her head in disbelief at Buloke, "He left you to die. It was deliberate. He could have had someone bring you water, Carlone. The guards have to ask his orders with every watch turnover. He wouldn't even allow that." Buloke frowned, but still put his hand on Carlone's shoulder to try to comfort her now that she was faced with the wicked truth. "I saw him myself. He brought another girl to your quarters. Silvy made up the room while you were meeting with the Queen." Carlone broke down, not sure she could handle much more. They were right. It was so painful, but she knew they were being honest with her too.

Carlone was too depressed to say much out loud after that day. The village where Carlone had hidden from the traveling preacher was just as she had left it all those years ago, still a ghost town. They walked from early morning into the next night to get there, but there it was. It wouldn't take much work to restore the abandoned buildings. There they could safely wait out whatever conflicts were taking place in the Capital. Carlone had done right by the people who had wronged her. She didn't feel good about it, but at least she knew she didn't have their blood on her hands. Buloke was regarded as a savior by them, and rightly so. Dowson decided to stay on too, despite Buloke extending an invitation to go with him to the inn. Carlone felt too overwhelmed to infringe on the tiny inn. Rather she opted to go to her family farm to warn Faya and Viktor of the news from the Capital. Buloke sent his regards but was too worried for his wife and children to go with her himself. Carlone knew he missed Peaches. He was a good man. They hugged before they parted ways not knowing when they would see one another again.

Carlone made it to the farm by walking inland not caring if she were seen on the main road. Her bet on her safety was correct as not a single person passed her on her way. When she got to the township she was exhausted but also renewed at the thought of seeing Faya. She had wished she had not been so selfish and had brought the street-bound fever survivors of the city to the countryside with her as Buloke had done for the castle staffers, but she also knew not to impose upon others when she had not asked permission to take on strangers as house guests. Carlone somewhere in her mind believed that the fever survivors, even the children were a resourceful type just as she had been. At the farm, she was well received by Viktor and Faya who were in the thick of the planting season. Carlone stayed on as a farmhand waiting for the Mountain Country to advance on the Capital and possibly the outlying towns. The news came by the fall that the Captain and Luetainent's heads were on pikes outside of the city's gates and that a new leader from the Mountain Country had taken over without ceremony. The people for the most part were unharmed. Their lives were unchanged completely in fact outside, of course, the Regent and the Queen who now lived in an estate exiled from the country that they once called theirs. The Mountain Country used its army to farm the land to make up for the lost money wasted by the former royals. They now maintained a permanent occupation within and surrounding the Capital, which formally became an extension of the Mountain Country, something no one complained of except maybe the royals themselves.

At the end of the harvest, Carlone went to her favorite place so as not to infringe on Faya and Viktor's happily ever after. Although she still went back every summer at their request staying in the barn whilst helping them with their farm and keeping up with her small family, she knew it was not her home. Instead, Carlone made her home in a cabin she built on the coast. The place she considered the luckiest, where she found all of those moonstones with Viktor. It was her secret hidden destination where she felt the most renewed. She collected and sold her moonstones inland, but never at the Capital. She could not bring herself to go to such a terrible place again, nor did she need to. She found her place in the world. She had a family and those whom she cherished. The need to go out looking for others to save her was gone. She had found comfort in who she was, while not forgetting those who had helped her along the way.


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