“Come on, Cailan!” whined Alistair as he walked backwards down one of the lower corridors of the Palace. “We’ve only got a few days left and it’s been years since we explored!” He grinned at the still figure of his older brother standing paces away and knew he’d almost gotten him.
Cailan let out a huff of breath, ruffling the loose strands of his blond hair, then he was striding forward. As he got closer, he pointed with one finger and said, “Fine but I’m telling you right now that if we get in trouble, I’m blaming you.”
“And we’ll still both get punished because you’re supposed to be the responsible one,” replied Alistair. He received a good-natured swat in response and a muttered brat but neither was really important. His big brother was with him on another adventure and if they did get in trouble, Cailan would probably take responsibility no matter what he said. That was just how Cailan was.
Turning on his heels, Alistair shrugged all else aside as he began to hurry down the corridor. “So,” he called over his shoulder, “I found the start of something.”
“Something?” repeated Cailan. When the younger boy didn’t respond immediately, he sighed and asked in an over-exaggerated voice, “What did you find, Alistair?”
Laughing, he replied, “A secret!”
“Little brother, if you don’t stop being vague I’m going to thump you one good.”
Shaking his head at his brother’s impatience, Alistair turned in mid-step so he was walking backwards again and extended his arms wide as he exclaimed, “It’s a secret part of the Palace, Cailan! I found it while I was down here with Geoff and he was too scared to help me explore it.” Shrugging, he continued, “So I waited until you came back for Satinalia ’cause I knew you’d come with me.”
Cailan frowned for a moment then asked, “Who’s Geoff?”
“One of the maidservant’s sons.”
“And does Father know you’re playing with the children of the staff?”
Alistair blinked at the question and cocked his head to the side as he came to a stop in the corridor. “Who else am I supposed to play with when you’re in Redcliffe and Aedan’s back in Highever? Vaughan?”
“Fair point.” Cailan then arched an eyebrow and said, “Well? Are we going?”
Grinning, the younger boy turned to start moving again, this time more quickly. He hurried down several of the lower corridors with his brother at his heels until they finally reached a bend that had obviously been disused for some time. There were cobwebs hanging in great gobbets from the ceilings and there was disused furniture stacked alone the walls, some of it showing the obvious marks of Orlesian craftmanship. Alistair nodded towards where the hall continued on beyond the bend and said, “It keeps going like this for just a bit before it dead ends. That’s not the secret though.”
Hopping up on top of a step stool that he’d put into place the last time he’d been down there, Alistair climbed up the front of an old armoire bearing an Orlesian flower motif and perched on the edge of it. “This,” he proclaimed with a grin, “is the secret.” Turning back towards the wall, he placed his hands against the small table laying on it’s side atop the armoire and pushed it just enough to reveal the hole where aged brick and mortar had crumbled away.
Cailan just blinked then he was scrambling up the stacked furniture to peer at the hole that had been revealed. “And you haven’t been inside?” he asked.
“Geoff wouldn’t go,” repeated Alistair. He then smiled and said, “Besides…this is ours, right? The Palace? If there’s anything hidden here, shouldn’t it be Theirins that find it?” Officially he might not be able to claim the name but, as Cailan and Father always said, that didn’t make him any less of one.
With a laugh, his brother nodded and reached out to ruffle his hair. As Alistair groaned and pushed his hand away, Cailan said, “Too right, little brother. I guess we should get a torch then if we’re going to explore as I doubt there’s any inside.”
“Or,” drawled Alistair, “we could use a lantern.”
“You snitched a lantern.”
Cailan rolled his eyes and grumbled, “I doubt Father’s going to see it like that. Alright, get your lantern. I’m assuming you grabbed something to light it as well as oil?”
“Top drawer,” replied Alistair, patting the armoire.
“We might just turn you into a tactician yet.”
“Hey. I understand tactics fine when you or Father explain them!”
Laughing, Cailan said, “I’m just being aggravating, Alistair. Now get your lantern and see if it needs oil while I dig out these other supplies of yours.” Nodding, he did as requested and found that the lantern was still full of oil despite it having been months since he’d squirrelled it away. As he heaved the heavy peice of iron and glass around, Alistair saw that his brother had dug out the small jar of oil as the flint and steel he’d hidden.
Looking down at the wooden furniture they were sitting on, he nodded towards the floor before saying, “We probably shouldn’t light it up here.”
“Not unless we want to smoke ourselves out.”
A few moments after scrambling down, they were climbing back up the furniture and shifting the now lit lantern between them. As they perched in front of the hole, Cailan took the lantern and leaned inside to get a look at what was on the other side. Leaning forward so he could see himself, Alistair blinked as he saw there was an almost identical corridor on the other side of the wall except that it extended beyond where the one they were in ended.
“So,” he said hesitantly, “they just walled up this whole section? Why?”
“I imagine no one remembers anymore,” Cailan replied. He then passed the lantern over and said, “Alright, I’m going to climb down and you hand me the lantern. Then you climb down, alright?”
Nodding, Alistair held the lantern as still as he could so Cailan could see where he was going before he handed it off. Then he carefully lowered himself down on the other side of the wall before dropping to the dusty stones on the other side. As puffs of dust came up underneath his boots, he noted, “I don’t think anyone’s been in here for a long time. Probably even before the Occupation.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Cailan as he held the latern aloft and turned to look down either direction the corridor ran.
Alistair pointed towards the dusty, cobwebbed chair that was the only peice of furniture he could see in the hall before replying, “That’s not an Orlesian style.” He then asked, “Now what?”
“Now we explore, little brother. Come on, let’s start at one end of the corridor and move down it as we go from room to room.”
At first they didn’t find anything but half empty rooms that held more cobweb covered furniture, most of it looking more broken than anything remotely useable. The rooms themselves were large and very open, which Cailan explained was either because the section was used for a different purpose years ago or it was to accomodate large amounts of people. Other than that, however, there was nothing of interest in the first rooms they explored other than the skeleton of a dead cat that they found underneath the sagging frame of a bed.
Disappointed at what little they’d found so far, Alistair scuffed his feet in the corridor and groaned, “Maybe we should just go.”
“And leave our exploration undone?”
“There’s nothing here.”
Cailan just smiled and said, “One more room? If we don’t find anything there, we can go back.”
Sighing, Alistair nodded and headed towards the next door, which was going to lead to the fourth of the seven rooms in the corridor. As he turned the doorknob and pushed it in, he felt resistance and heard something scraping across the stones behind it. “Something’s blocking it.”
“Here, take the lantern.”
As they shifted around and Cailan pushed the door open, Alistair peered inside and his eyes widened as he saw the tall back of a chair sitting just inside the door. “Cailan,” he breathed.
“What…oh. Oh, Maker.”
Despite the obvious years of dust that covered it, the arms of their family were clearly visible where they were carved into the high back of the chair. The cushion of the chair had rotted away, leaving little more than scraps of fabric clinging to the frame but the wood itself was still in good condition. It had obviously once been a fine chair and given the fact that the feet were carved into the likeness of paws and the arms of a mabari’s head, it had probably been sat in by one of their ancestors.
Turning around the room, they found several more similar peices of furniture bearing the Theirin crest and mabari motifs. And half-hidden behind a claw-foot table that had obviously seen many better days judging by it’s sword scarred surface, were two heavy chests, neither of which appeared to be locked.
Alistair stared at the for a moment then turned to look at Cailan, who was as wide-eyed as he probably was. “Do we open them?” he asked quietly.
“Of course,” came the matter-of-fact response. As Cailan sat the lantern on the table near the edge so they would be able to see, both of them placed their hands on the lid of the chests. They looked at each other for a moment then, with perfect timed nods, both opened the chests at the same time.
Piles of gold and jewelry as well as the spines of books and folds of fabric stared back at them as the lids fell back against the other furniture, the dull thumps making both of them jump. Alistair just gaped open-mouthed at their discovery then he slowly turned to his brother with only one thing on his mind. Cailan seemed to have the same thoughts as they both spoke the same sentence aloud.
“We have to tell Father.”