Chapter 2: Rowan
Prince Rowan Raun of Xastuvaria sighed and pushed his ginger hair out of his eyes. It was his seventeenth birthday, shouldn’t he be excited? All of Xastuvaria seemed to think so, except Rowan himself. Seventeen meant responsibility. Seventeen meant thinking about the kingship that he would inherit when his father passed. Seventeen meant taking a wife.
Rowan had never had a girlfriend. He had never fallen in love or kissed a girl. Or a boy, for that matter, although Rowan was straight. He wasn’t allowed, of course. Naturally, he had heard rumors of heirs in other Realms dating non-royals, such as that girl Alex-Elizabeth - something like that - that would be arriving later that day. The word had got out that she had a boyfriend within the castle. It wasn’t like Rowan cared, though. He had never thought about the political mess that was marriage, and he didn’t plan to.
The crown prince has advisors for a reason, right?
Rowan took a comb from his dresser and ran it through his short, straight, fiery red hair. He had long since banished most of his personal servants from his room - they just weren’t necessary, save Viola, Bartholomew, and Kiaska, who were his best and only friends in the world. So he dressed himself, bathed himself, and groomed himself to how he saw fit. It was nice, being able to take charge in a tiny aspect of his life. God knows he didn’t have say in the rest of it.
The prince stood, uncomfortable in his regal garments. He had to wear them for the princess’ arrival. The princess. Alex-Elizabeth? Rowan had heard many things about the girl. Most said that she was petty and shallow. Some people thought that she shouldn’t be queen. Many agreed.
From the sound of that, this alliance with Nydillan wasn’t going anywhere.
Xastuvaria needed a strong leader. Rowan would be that hero. The prince - well, king - that finally solved all of Xastuvaria’s problems. Sure, they weren’t in civil war or extreme poverty, but their realm did have its issues. And Rowan was determined to dig his beloved country out of its hole.
“Rowan?” a regal, soft voice murmured from behind Rowan. He whirled around, only to find his mother, the queen. She held a piece of silk the color of Xastuvaria’s jewel in the Diadem of the Six Realms - a shimmering amber, like the color of Rowan’s hair. Gingers were always considered an emblem of good luck in Rowan’s realm.
“Mom,” Rowan smiled. He and his mother had always had a strong, healthy relationship - her, supportive and loving, and him, obedient and respectful. Visits from her out-of-the-blue like this, however, were not typical. In Xastuvaria, the queen’s job was to travel among the people, collecting advice and distributing aid where it was needed. She was rarely home.
“Ro, I have to go,” Rowan’s mom said, using her fond nickname for her son. Her eyes filled with compassion and sadness, and Rowan’s gut grew heavy.
“To Nydillan,” she responded. “To speak with their king. I’ll be back in two weeks.”
“Okay,” Rowan whispered. He didn’t like his mother leaving to be amongst the townsfolk on a weekly basis. He couldn’t stand the idea of his mom, Queen Sarai, traveling across the war tribes of Slogokar and the ever-spreading deadly Mists of Aepiwaemore with a mere guard or two, but that was the fastest way to Nydillan - and Rowan could tell that his mother needed to arrive in Nydillan as soon as possible. Even an army could not combat the fae and will-o-the-wisps that took their homes in the Mists, luring travelers into endless clear lakes and leaving no evidence of their deaths but a sprinkle of faerie dust. One pinch of dust for one victim. A deadly tradeoff.
Although, some Aepiwaemorians did risk their lives daily by scouring the Mists for any piles of the extremely valuable substance. One grain could cure a child of the deadliest disease. Three could cure a grown man. But no amount of dust can save a person if they get chosen and taken by the fae.
“I’ll be back in two weeks,” his mother repeated. She pressed the fabric into Rowan’s hand. His fist clenched around it. “Happy birthday, Ro,” she said, pulling her son into a warm embrace. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
The silver bell besides Rowan’s bed dinged. His father was calling him.
The Nydilla princess must be here.
He waltzed down the stairs, his instincts of suavity and regality in a foreigner’s presence.
First, Rowan saw the queen. Queen Marianne of Nydillan. Rowan had heard whisperings about the queen, and they seemed quite spot-on. Queen Marianne had severe blue eyes, and when her and Rowan made eye contact, his body seemed frozen to the floor. Differing from the photographs and paintings Rowan had seen of her, the queen’s long hair was down, hanging almost to her hips. A headpiece the color of Nydillan’s silver-blue gem in the Diadem silver-blue sat neatly on a braided crown atop her head. Her hand was tightly clasped around her daughter’s shoulder, squeezing so hard that Rowan cringed in pity for the poor girl. “Amber-Elisabeth!” she whispered. “Introduce yourself!”
“Hi,” the princess said. She outstretched her hand towards Rowan, who took it. He studied her. Princess Amber-Elisabeth of Nydillan had mid-length jet black hair that was styled into a braided bun studded with flowers. She was wearing a simple but perfectly fit riding dress, opposing Rowan’s princely attire, and ornate leather boots bejeweled with silver-blue gems. From the girl’s ears hung uncomfortable-looking jeweled earrings. She had a nice smile, Rowan thought.
“I’m Amber-Elisabeth,” she stated, still holding his hand from their previous shake. He dropped hers. Distinctly Rowan could hear Amber-Elisabeth’s mother cough. The princess cringed. “Sorry. I am Princess Amber-Elisabeth of Nydillan, heir to the queendom of one of the Six Realms,” she said, raising her chin in a very royal way. Rowan chuckled.
“Well, I’m Rowan,” he began, “but if this is the way we’re doing it, you can call me Prince Rowan of Xastuvaria, heir to the kingship of one of the Six Realms.” He paused. “But I liked the first way better, Amber-Elisabeth.”
“Can you -” Amber stopped and looked at her mother, who violently shook her head but maintained her fake pasted smile. “Can you call me Amber?” she finished, not daring to look back towards the queen. Rowan assumed that she wasn’t supposed to only be called ‘Amber’.
“Sure, Amber,” Rowan said easily. It was kind of fun talking to this sheltered princess. Maybe she wasn’t as self-centered as everyone thought she was.
“Where are my chambers?” she asked, entirely changing the direction of their conversation and ignoring his epic proclamation of ‘Sure, Amber’.
“So, ah, Amber, do you want to...do something?” Rowan inquired lamely. She laughed.
“Sure, I guess.”
“Uh...” she paused, thinking. “I do need a new lipstick, I guess. Is there a beauty wagon near here?”
“Well, not near here,” Rowan explained, “but we could ride.”
“Oh, I don’t ride,” Amber said, squirming. Obviously she didn’t like riding horses, despite her expensive riding dress. Rowan frowned.
“Then how do you suppose we get to the mall?”
“We can borrow my mother’s carriage,” she said. “It fits four. We can take my two guards,” she remarked.
“No.” Rowan shook his head. “We aren’t taking guards.”
“Why?” Amber pouted. “But I want to take my guards!” Wow, this girl is stubborn, Rowan thought to himself.
“Amber, you’re almost seventeen. You aren’t a little kid, you can leave your guards. Now are we going or not?”
Amber scowled. “Fine. Let’s go.”