_______________________________________________________

It came in the middle of the night like some monster. If I hadn’t recognized the near rotten smell of meat from her breath I might have thought it was some beast out to eat me. She stood over the bed, all four paws of hers dug deep into the mattress and she began licking my face.

“Stop,” I tried covering my face, though there might have been a smile hidden under all the slobber. Selsie barked and her tail wagged fast enough to create a breeze. When the lights were turned on I saw Lilia waiting by the door.

“Sir, young master Kahl and Ma’dam Sopphie have arrived.”

I headed for the door with Selsie and Lilia close behind. I saw them waiting in the courtyard while a couple of guards were taking their things to a room. When I met eyes with Kahl, he bowed. Then Sophie, but she seemed more surprised like she was staring at a stranger and took a moment to realize it was me before deciding to run at me for hug.

“Lee!” she yelled.

“How was your trip?”’

“It was okay,” she said. I gestured for Kahl to follow on a tour of their rooms. Sophie bolted to her room, and I took Kahl to his. Inside them included a bed, closet, some drawers and a desk.

“It’s nothing like the house in Aria,” I said. Kahl gave me a blank stare.

“Is it alright?”

“What is?”’

“Master Lee,” he said. “In the span of a month we went from poverty to being allowed a home in a middle class ranks, and now this mansion of a house. I’m living better than anyone I’ve ever known.” I could relate. A time existed when I struggled for money and I had to sacrifice my education to pay the bills. I didn’t regret it.

“I’d actually prefer if you and Sophie were kept elsewhere, somewhere safe,” I said. I looked at Lilia, she nodded.

“It can be a nice normal house somewhere,” added Lilia. “Accommodations can be made and we can have a house ready tomorrow.”

“I appreciate what you’ve done for us,” he said, But I’m sure Sophie would be sad if we had to move again.”

“Get some sleep soon,” I said, he bowed and I went to see Sophie. Her room was directly next to Kahl’s and I found her browsing the closet for clothing that seemed like they would fit her perfectly. In fact, they probably did.

“They actually fit her, right?” I looked up to Lilia.

“We had both Kahl and Sophie measured before we left from Aria,” she said. “We included normal wear and dresses for the occasion. If the young ma’dam wishes, we can send for more to be sent her way.” Sophie wasted no time in trying them on and I turned around the second her clothes hit the floor.

“By the way,” I said, “how are we able to afford so much?”

“Except for a few books gifted from Princess Lehvie, everything purchased has come from your funds.”

“My funds? I don’t think what I brought is nearly enough to pay for everything.”

“Sir, the funds come from your castle,” she said. I think I felt my heart skip.

“Money?” I said. “How much?”

“I’m not in charge of the treasury, but,” she said, “if I had to guess, enough to run a small town.”

“And it’s mine?” I clarified, still in disbelief. 

“Yes.”

“Lee,” Sophie called, I turned around and saw her in a frilly dress, the ribbons red on white and went well with her brown eyes.

“It looks good,” I said. It had to be the excitement, when Aril joined we stayed up and chatted away into the night.

* * *

A Day With Aril

“Your house-guests will need to attend an academic institution,” I overheard miss Alice, it was morning and I followed her voice to a room. I peeked in and saw her sitting on a chair and Lee was behind a desk. His eyes turned to me for a second and back to Alice.

“I’ve read about all the schools in the city,” he sighed. “They’re all military academies.”

“Students can choose what subjects they are interested in,” she said. “But it is mandatory for people who can use magic to attend training in any of the schools in Talica, so that they learn how to properly use it and keep others from harm.”

“So Aril and Sophie have to attend?”

“Yes.”

I felt a tap on my soldier and I jumped. Her hands covered my mouth and held me to the wall. It was miss Lilia, and I saw a small push-cart behind her with a tea-set and desserts in display in the middle. She brought them in the room and handed Lee a cup and any dessert he wanted. Afterwards, she stood quiet by his side, like some silent overseer.

“What about Kahl?” he asked.

“He cannot use magic,” said miss Alice, “but he can still attend the academy and learn anything else he may find agreeable. He will also be taught to use magic stones to compensate for his lack of magic.” Lee’s eye switched to me.

“What do you think, Aril?” he asked. Miss Lilia gestured for me to come in and take a seat beside Alice.

“Well,” I said, “which one are you going to attend?”

“Prince Liel has to attend Majai’s Military Academy,” said Alice. “This is where Princess Lehvie and Princess Nes are currently enrolled in. It is also a tradition.”

“Then I’ll go to that one,” I said. Lee fell back on his chair and it was decided that we would join the school with him. “When do we start?” 

“Next week,” said miss Alice, “that’s when placement tests begin.”

“That soon?” I said. That thought had me tremble. I didn’t need my fingers or toes to count the years I had in education. If I were to take the exams, the fear of breaking down in the middle of it was real. 

“You have the option of taking it next semester,” said Alice. “Whatever your decision, I would advise you to take the one coming up if only to see what it will be like.” 

Miss Lilia leaned in over to Lee and he whispered something to her. She took out another dessert and cup of tea and placed it on his desk. She walked out of the room with the dessert cart and gestured for me to follow to the courtyard where Sophie and Kahl were sitting near the water-fountain. Selsie was nearby keeping watch over them and Sophie’s eyes glowed the moment her eyes caught the cart of desserts.

I helped miss Lilia handed the deserts and cups of tea, as well as for a few guards who were standing guard in the hallway.

“And you, Aril?” asked miss Lilia.

“I’m fine,” I said. I headed back to where Lee was but before I could enter I heard them laughing together. I took another peek in saw miss Alice had sat next to him and they were both eating their desserts. They were sitting close and looked more like a mother and her son, chatting away about a festival. I went back to the courtyard.

“Aril,” Sophie called me, she had at least three different kinds of desserts in front of her. “Try this!”

“I’ll try some later,” I said. When everyone finished I helped miss Lilia take all the empty plates and cups back to the kitchen where someone else took them and began washing them. There were people everywhere that I couldn’t recognize since coming here. A group of cooks whose dishes mines couldn’t compare to. There was always someone cleaning our rooms, someone preparing our baths, and someone always watching over us. Then there was miss Lilia, who was always there for Liel at what felt like the perfect time. They were all like pieces of clay molding around him. 

“May I take a moment of your time?” I said. Lilia gestured for the kitchen staff to leave  and in a moment’s notice, the room was left for just the two of us. Lilia had us sit with our back against the wall and for a while I couldn’t force the words to come out of my mouth.

“Are you scared to speak?” Lilia held my hand and I found that I was shaking.

“No,” I said. Not when I spent most of my life talking to patrons at the inn. “It might be anxiety. My world used to be so small, and now I feel like a thousand doors have been opened just for me. Being free feels… it feels overwhelming. It used to be so easy to just do as I was told. And now I don’t know what to do anymore.” I hugged my knees to my chest. The thought of going to school was always both a dream and a nightmare. 

“It’s not unusual to feel that way,” she said. “You haven’t even broken into adult-hood.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that you have the rest of your life to figure out what you want to do. You don’t magically run out of options once you hit old age.”

“And you?”

“Me?” she pressed a finger to her cheek. “I’m already happy doing what I like.” Miss Lilia stood and walked out of the kitchen. The cooks returned to their positions and I sat there wondering what it was that made her happy.

* * *

It was nearing dark and we were riding in a carriage through the city. Kahl, Sophie and I, along with guards in casual clothing, were all in one carriage. Another carriage ahead of us carried Lee, Alice, and Lilia as the driver. The whole point was that we brought all the attention, with our carriage that seemed many times more luxurious than the one Lee was in. I was sure people would easily mistake us for nobles.

After all, we looked like one, and Sophie, who seemed to enjoy the frilly dresses even when she took the longest to decide what to wear, was enjoying herself the most. Her legs were swung back and forth while she stared out the window. Unlike her brother, who kept to himself and waited patiently for us to arrive at our destination, this was rare to see. When the carriage finally stopped, someone opened the carriage door and I was the first out. There were crowds of people heading in one direction and I felt some of their stares. I looked both ways and saw that Selsie had followed us close. She jogged right past me and headed to Lee’s carriage.

“Aril,” said Sophie, she grabbed my hand and we followed the guards through the crowds. Almost everyone had red hair red eyes and I felt we stood out-of-place. Like we didn’t belong.

We reached Lee’s group and walked side by side and walked the rest of the way, just a few blocks and into an open area where there was an arena at the center, and on the sides were food stalls and lanterns hung all over the place. Our group continued into a building and up to the second floor where seats waited for us. Lee was on the building to our left and on the second floor balcony. Selsie laid beside him and we heard the crowds of people below cheering.

A few moments passed and I saw someone familiar walk with a number of guards following her into the arena. It was Princess Lehvie accompanied by her mother, who wore a white dress and they walked all the way to the center before stopping. They didn’t speak a word, but instead waved at the crowds of people, then looked at each other and bowed. Princess Lehive had the ends of her skirt catch fire and she twirled in a dance around the Queen and before long my whole field of view was brighten.

The Queen turned herself into a bird of fire, and every time her wings flapped I felt them like a heat wave. She flew around princess Lehvie like a mother bird would her hatchlings. I saw Lee on the balcony, he stared on but something else caught my attention. Selsie stood and looked around her like something was bothering. She walked back inside the house.

“I’ll be right back,” I told Sophie and her brother. Back downstairs everything felt eerie and I couldn’t see much with the lights out. There wasn’t any one around, no guards, just the sounds of people outside clapping and cheering. I felt a presence around the room and then I noticed, a guard bleeding out near the fireplace. Before I could yell for help someone creeped from behind and they muffled my voice.

“Where is the prince?” they asked. Three of them surrounded me, people in black clothing and their faces hidden. One of them pointed a knife to my throat and they repeated the question. I felt my hands shaking.

“Tell us!” said another. All I could do was freeze up, no words could leave my mouth. Right then I heard a loud growl and the people in black tossed me aside. Selsie jumped one of them and I saw miss Lilia run into the room with a spear in hand. Without warning she pierced one them in the stomach and they fell to the floor almost instantly. The last one ran out and miss Lilia followed after him. Selsie kept barking, she had one of them locked under her tremendous weight.

“Why are you looking for him?” I asked. I walked up to the person in black and removed their mask. All I saw were a pair of red eyes and red hair. A Talician man. I gasped. I checked the one dead on the floor. It was a woman, again, those same features, red eyes, red hair. Like Lee, a Talician.

“Kill the boy,” I heard, it was that man. “Kill him or we lose more lives in the war.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is the only way to restore power to the Queen,” he said, “only she can–” a spear was struck between his eyes. Miss Lilia stood over his now lifeless body. I looked away.

“Are you alright, Aril?” she asked. I stepped away from her. She was covered in blood and after a second there were groups of guards walking in and securing the room.

“What did he mean by that?” I asked. Miss Lilia grabbed my hand and took me to the house Lee was in. In the first floor she changed clothing and looked me directly in the eyes.

“Why?” I asked, “why does everyone want him dead? Even his own people!”

“If you tell him what happened,” she said, “there is a good chance you’ll be living a few thousand miles away. Make your decision.”

We headed for the second balcony and Lee was  watching the festival. Alice stood next to him keeping watch. Like nothing happened. He looked at me and smiled.

“Aril,” he said, “join me.” I smiled back and sat next to him. My hands were still shaking.

* * *

Lee’s View

I was looking on as the people in costumes danced. Some used magic to shape ice into animals and made them move like they were alive. Overall I thought the festival was fun to watch, but for some reason my eyes felt bothered, warm and before long I had tears flow out nonstop. I felt a deep sadness that wouldn’t go away. I got up and headed downstairs to calm myself.

“Liel.”

I saw mom standing by the entrance, there was a group of cloaked guards behind her. She got on her knees so we shared eye level.

“Why are you crying?” she asked.

She wiped away the tears and they stopped flowing.

Chapter End. 

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Author’s Notes:

V1.1.0 – Fixed spelling. Updated content. 011417