“Are you alright? Do you feel sick?” mom asked. My head wasn’t throbbing nor my nose any stuffy. I didn’t feel any pain or had a reason to feel sad, but I couldn’t explain why my eyes watered.
“I’m fine,” I said. “Really.”
“Good,” she said. Mom gave me a hug, one that lasted for a while. “This one is overdue.”
“You ought to stay close to Lilianne,” she said. “She can protect you.”
“Did something happen?”
“I suppose not,” Glinn stood. She had a tour of the room. Her attention was taken by one of the bookshelves where she found a magic stone. She placed it in her palm, smothered it with fire and it cracked open to release a puff of smoke.
“I do not appreciate eavesdropping,” she said.
“Please refrain from breaking them,” Alice appeared near the railing on the second floor. “They aren’t replaced so easily.”
“I will take Liel home with me,” said Glinn.
“That’s not something I would advise you to decide for yourself,” said Alice. “Unless you, your Majesty, really wish to be hated.” Glinn took a short glance at me.
“Liel. You need to come home with me.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I don’t want to.”
“Do you wish to wake to a half charred dog?” said Glinn. “You could be conversing with your friends and in an instant they would scream in agony whilst they burned.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No,” said Glinn. “Perhaps showing you will prove to be more convincing.” She produced a fire underneath her feet. It spread in a ring around her that charred the floor’s surface. The wood’s black dust blew away with any sudden breeze that found itself through the window. It crackled and squealed as if the house was going to sink further down its foundation. That same fire made short work of a wooden chair and left it all black.
“Do you understand, Liel?” Glinn extended a hand to me. She was a foot away and the fire had made its way comfortably past me. I didn’t feel anything. “Hate me, if you must, but I will not let my child go through the heartache of inflicting pain on someone they love.”
* * *
“Lee!” I yelled. I couldn’t pull away from Lilia or call to Lee as he was about to be taken. It was as if something was keeping my voice from reaching him.
“That’s enough,” said Lilia. From the bottom up, I was being surrounded with ice. My movements were becoming restricted more and more. All of it was coming from Lilia.
“One oxygen, two hydrogen,” I couldn’t forget what Lee taught me. I melted the ice and it puddled around me. Lilia answered by reaching for her spear. I raised all of the water and threw it at her, freezing it the moment it touched her. Instead, when it came in contact it turned to steam. It wasn’t working.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Aril,” Lilia pointed her spear to my throat. “But what you are attempting to do is keep Prince Liel from growing as a person.”
“By letting home be taken?” I countered.
“That’s enough.” Lee walked from behind me. Lilia lowered her spear and kneeled. “Are they still performing?”
“Yes, your Highness,” said Lilia. Lee took his seat and returned to watching the performers for the rest of the night. He left just as the festival was over.
* * *
I woke to the early morning sun and the clock pointed a quarter past six. I pulled the covers over my head only for them to be removed by something. The light blinding my eyes, keeping me from returning to sleep. I smothered my face on the pillow. It didn’t help that my breathing had become harder.
“Aril,” Lilia pulled the pillow right under me.
“It’s too early,” I protested.
“Prince Liel won’t be returning,” she said. I sprung up on the bed. “Only until the exams are over.” I collapsed back. We had breakfast and Lilia took me to Lee’s office.
“What are these?” I saw stacks of papers on Lee’s desk, each one more packed with information than the last.
“Notes,” said Lilia. One glance through and I understood that getting past the first page would be a hard fight. “You will need to learn the material, regardless of next week’s outcome. Pass or fail.”
“For now,” she continued, “we’ll focus on your strengths and find something we can work on.”
There was only one problem her assessment, “I don’t know if I have any strengths.”
* * *
“Again,” Glinn ordered. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the world to satisfy the air I craved for. I should be drenched in my own sweat.
“I never thought I’d hate magic so much in my life,” I said. Glinn placed a magic stone on my body. It glowed and burst into a million pieces, just like the one before it, again, and again. The effects were instant and I believed that if I got up and kept running, I could completely a marathon. But the one thing it couldn’t cure was my will to continue. I collapsed to the ground and within moments Selsie laid next to me. I used her as a pillow.
“You have to keep trying,” she Glinn.
Mom helped me up and I stood over a new and green patch of grass. I closed my eyes and started. Bringing together the atoms I needed was easy. The fire I created burned bright beneath my feet and spread over the area I guided it through. The problems remained in that I couldn’t burn the grass fast enough to mimic what Glinn could do.
“Wrong,” she said.
“You say that I need to ‘feel’ it,” I said, “but there’s nothing there.” I sat down and took the oxygen atoms in the air and created the hydrogen to combine them to make water. Science was still interesting no matter how I used it and there wasn’t a need to strike a spark if I told the individual atoms where to go. It reached a point where a sizable amount of water floated above my face. It was pure water. It might be dumb but the curiosity got to me. One sip in and the water felt like it was drinking me back, as if it was sucking whatever minerals and impurities were in my mouth. I coughed and spit it out. It was tasteless.
My misery was fueled with when Glinn laughed. She put hand to her mouth. It was easy to forget that she was a normal person.
“It will be more tolerable if you let the water filter through some earth,” she said. “We will stop for the day.” Her servants popped from everywhere, a dozen of them gathered around and invaded all of my private space.
“Wait,” I said, palms up and ready to push them back. They were getting antsy, any second longer and I worried they would jump on me. “I can clean myself just fine.” I asked a damp towel and cleaned my face with it. “Thank you.” They spread out for Glinn who made her way to me.
“You missed a spot,” she said. Glinn rubbed my cheek with the towel and then to my neck.
“There will be a gathering held tonight,” she said. “I expect you to attend.” She stopped and headed back inside the castle, leaving me with the servants.
“You can be at ease now,” I said. “I don’t mind.” They were like uniformed copies of Lilia, except they were more concerned with appearances. I observed their shoulders drop and air escape their mouths. “Is it like this every day?”
“No, your Highness,” said a male servant, his bow tie was tight around his neck. “Her Majesty hasn’t been in the best mood lately.”
“When did it start?”
“The day she returned from her trip to Ephram,” he said. “Hearing her laugh was a relief.”
“That’s nice to hear,” I said. “By the way, is there a magic that can take you to faraway places? Other worlds, perhaps?”
He shook his head. “Not that I know of, sir.”
* * *
Buttons were being stitched on my shirt. Reds and golds were intricately patterned over my suit. It was all srange but I was really becoming someone I couldn’t recognize.
“I’m really becoming Liel,” I said.
“Sorry?” said the person stitching the buttons on my shirt. “My sister calls me Lee. I’m getting that feeling that people only call me by Liel when it comes to business.”
“Ah,” he said. He had to be in his fifties. There weren’t that many red hairs on him, mostly pinks, whites and grays.
“Her Highness has that tendency to give others nickname,” he said. “Some may not be luck when she butchers their names them into embarrassment.”
“Can you tell me what she’s like?” I said. “When I’m not around.”
“Princess Lehvie?” he scratched at his beard. “I suppose she is adored by the people who guard her. She may overstep her bounds but does so for the consideration of others. She also feints being lazy in order to keep attention away from her, but I do believe she is the hardest worker in the family, even above Her Majesty.”
“I hope she didn’t tell you to say that,” I said. The tailor had a belly laugh.
“If only,” he said. “There is something she does that I think is very endearing. Anyway, I should focus on finishing up here.”
“You aren’t like the others,” I said and enjoyed the moment relaxation over people’s overly polite manners when they find out who I am. Always at my beck and call, and calling me ‘sir,’ was nothing but exhausting.
“That’s because I am the family tailor,” he said. “If the Princess needs a new dress, the request goes through me. If you’d like, I can return to a more formal tone.”
“No,” I said, “it’s fine. I prefer it this way.”
“By the way,” I said, the buttons he was stitching on my shirt had caught my attention. They were too shiny, too different what buttons looked like. They were devoid of holes so a needle wasn’t going to help keep them attached. “Are these buttons magic stones?”
“Yes,” he said. “The very expensive kind.”
“One thing,” he said. “Your mother has sent someone to escort you during your attendance in the party.”
“Did she say who?”
“She did not.”
“And the party,” I said. “Do I have any obligations while I’m there?” like connecting with people and remembering faces, or, the thought crossed my mind, “dancing?”
“No,” he said, “you aren’t expected to dance. However, it would be rude to refuse a lady.”
I looked at myself through the mirror. I didn’t pass four feet in height. “Who would want to dance with a kid?”
“Well,” he said, “there will be guests bringing their children to experience an invitation from the Queen for the first time. No doubt there will be teenagers too, but I do believe the majority will be adults. As for any obligations, as you are now, while it may seem strange, you will have to bow to Her Majesty. A bend at the neck will do.”
“I understand. Tonight I don’t exist.” The last button came next and was ordered to look up at the ceiling. “By the way, what is the party being held for?”
“I have not the slightest clue,” he said, right then I heard a knock on the door. “There, you can look down now.”
“It’s a good fit,” I said. I looked at the mirror and saw a woman standing behind me. She wore this dress that reached all the way to the floor. It had a pattern of an owl on the front, its wings spread across her waist. “Are you my escort?”
“Yes,” she said. The voice caught my attention. “Just for tonight. I will return to the villa before morning.”
I might have had a broad smile over my face. “I didn’t recognize you,” I said. “You look,” I had trouble finding the right word. “Amazing.”
“Is there a meaning behind the owl?”
“That is my family’s coat of arms,” she said. “Each Talician family has their own distinct emblem of a bird. And they certainly picked an interesting one for you.” I looked at my shirt, it had patterns but nothing that resembled a bird. Instead they were fancy circles that took as much space to keep it from looking bland.
“On your back,” said the tailor. He turned me around so that my back faced the mirror and I saw the pattern of an animal stitched in black. It was in the image of a fox.
“That’s definitely not a bird,” I said.
“We should get going,” said Lilia. She guided me through the halls, and we eventually started seeing a flow of guests walking around. Groups of them headed in one direction and we followed them into a large ball room. An open ceiling made for an interesting view of the night sky, we could see all the stars past the clouds and smell the fresh, cool air. The room itself was lit by crystals, hundreds of them hovered in the air, some even coming to life and circling one another in a sort of dance. Everyone dressed accordingly in reds, yellows, whatever color matched their mood. This was met with the absence of precious jewels or golds for earrings and necklaces. It wasn’t anything like I had seen in movies.
We moved past the guests, to the side of the room and near the food tables filled with little desserts and treats, wines, too. Lilia didn’t spare a moment in collecting a piece or two on a plate. She leaned over to me and put one in my mouth. This led to a sudden pain at my gums that weren’t ready for the shock, and concentrated sweetness.
“It’s good,” I said, rubbing my cheeks in the meantime, my eyes got teary.
“Ah!” there was a gentleman darting his way through the crowds. “Miss Lilia, it has been a long time. How have you been? And your father?”
“I’m doing fine,” she said. “My father is occupied with work.”
“And the boy?” he said, staring at me. He put a hand to his mouth. “Don’t tell me!” Did he find out? “Is he your son? Did you marry an elv?”
“No,” she said, “this is Maxwell, I’m charge of keeping an eye over him.”
“Ah, so you’re still in the guarding business,” he said. “Well, I hope you take care of yourself. I must go before my wife glues herself to the wine bar.” The gentleman blended back in with the crowd.
“Was he a friend of yours?”
“An old friend of my father’s,” she said. Lilia held my hand and took me on a long walk to the balcony where the ratio of person per square foot was more pleasant.
“That’s,” all of my attention was stolen by the city below. “It’s beautiful at night.” The streets were lit in yellows, they were like glowing veins that ran far in diverting paths to the ends of the horizon. The buildings carved in the rocks were like Christmas lights hung on the walls of the mountains, finished in reds, whites, and a few blues that complimented the bricked housing that covered most of the city.
Lilia pointed to a spot where, instead of the crammed buildings, a house was more surrounded by open space.
“That’s the villa,” she said.
“How are they doing?”
“Alice is taking care of the Siblings,” she said. “As for Aril, her large pool of magic will serve her well. Though there is something left to be desire in the amount of spells she knows.”
“That’s good to hear,” I leaned over the balcony to see parts of the castle, the dome below caught my attention with a piece of my memory trying to recall seeing it before.
“It’s getting brighter in there,” I said. Before long a phoenix emerged from inside the dome. It flew up to the sky without a sign of turning back. Its feathers burned bright and for a moment it seemed like it was day time, a scene I had seen before. There was another bird whose wings flapped unnaturally, it too, was smothered in flames. It followed Glinn like a chick would its mother bird.
“I believe that’s Princess Lehvie,” Lilia pulled me to the side, and I noticed how silent the room had gotten. Everyone grouped together on either side of the room. Glinn arched back and let gravity take her back down. She slowed her descent above the ball room. Everyone applauded, cheered, and waved at as she touched ground.
The flames around her receded and we could see her corporeal form. Glinn was in a red dress that dragged through the floor, her crown was made of bright yellow feathers with hints of a circlet hidden underneath and made of gold. She waved at the guests and in the next moment Lehvie touched ground, waving along with Glinn and smiling at the crowds. Lehvie, on the other hand, opted for a more casual look. A simple red dress that reached to her knees. They weren’t patterend or had any special stitching, adding in her small circlet of gold and one yellow feather, she couldn’t have looked more appropriate and even earned her louder cheers on her entrance.
Lilia looked back over the city, her eyes busy looking for something. We spotted it from one of the castles circling the sky, like a freshly lit torch. It created an ever more intense light that resembled more of a second sun. It spread its wings and landed on the side of the castle overlooking the ball room. Its size considerably bigger than Glinn’s.
“Is that Madrick?”
“Princess Nes,” said Lilia. Her eyes narrowed. “It’s a show of power.”
“She’s practically telling everyone that she’s ready for war.” Like Lilia said, the moment Nes made off for the center she revealed herself, and unlike anyone in the room, she dressed in a military uniform.
Chapter updated. 012017