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Thais stared out at the melting snow on the palace lawns and sighed. Three months she had been held captive in her chambers by a determined Gallus. Aside from her daily excursions to school and back Thais had found herself detained quite thoroughly in her chambers. The girl knew how to escape the confines of the palace, but for once she took her punishment seriously. Her recklessness had instilled true terror in those who cared for her and had brought about a change in the young girl. No longer did she feel she could put herself in such danger. Considering the curse she would live and die by, Thais felt she could forego the reckless breakouts that had been such a prominent aspect of her past. She would give her dear father a reprieve from his worries about her. Indeed, he had enough to worry about these days without her adding to his troubles.

Thais glanced at the sun hanging low in the sky before she let out a heavy sigh. They were late! Just because the princess was confined indoors did not mean she had to forego the company of her friends. Indeed, from the very first day of her incarceration Kaio and Rachel had found their way in. It had become a daily routine and one King Gallus was very aware of, but said nothing about. He respected the newfound maturity in his daughter. For once she was respecting his rules, though for how long this would last he wasn’t sure. Every day before supper Kaio and Rachel found their way into Thais’ chambers, but on this day they were late.

The princess was starting to wear down the expensive rug at her window by constantly pacing to and fro across the room, waiting for her dear friends to bring her news of the world outside her window. Finally there came a thud from the secret passageway hidden beside the princess’ bed. The girl ran forward and pulled open the hatch, which for all pretences appeared as any other stretch of wall and out tumbled her friends.

“At last!” Thais accused the pair, who were grinning fit to burst. “Where have you been?”

“They’re recruiting some new members of the King’s Guard,” Kaio explained cheerily, strolling past Thais to make himself comfortable on her bed. In his wake Rachel stood up and gave Thais a brief hug before she dropped down in front of the bed and lifted her knees to her chest.

“Yes Thais, and they’re awful!” the flame-haired girl complained. “They are far too keen and patrol at least ten times as well as the old guards. We might have to find an easier way in tomorrow.”

“Oh, well at least you’re here! I feel as though I’m going mad trapped inside these walls.”

Rachel smiled sympathetically and motioned for Thais to sit beside her. The princess readily obliged and dropped down at her side. Rachel wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulders.

“Not long now. How many weeks are there left?” she asked kindly. Thais sighed and kicked out her legs, sending a cascade of books flying out of her way; she had been seeing how tall she could build a tower of textbooks before they tumbled.

“Two weeks. Papa says that after the Viona Festival I can live wild and free again,” she grumbled.

“Two weeks is nothing princess. You’re lucky he’s letting you out at all,” Kaio piped up cheerily.

“You know he’s right,” Rachel agreed with a more tactful expression on her pretty face. Thais grinned and nodded.

“I know. If he ever finds out the whole truth then I might have to say goodbye to the sun and the trees and everything else there is to enjoy about life.”

“Oh listen to you,” the boy on the bed laughed and he reached out with a foot to give one of the girl’s a nudge. He miscalculated his shove and actually sent Rachel flying to the floor.

“Kaio!” the boy’s cousin cried out while Thais laughed gaily with pleasure.

“Promise me you won’t ever stop visiting me,” she insisted firmly.

“What’s in it for us?” Kaio enquired seriously, to which Thais promptly responded,

“My fine company.”

“Of course we’ll keep coming Thais,” Rachel cut in before her friends could ruin this merry mood with bickering. “Though soon you probably won’t need us will you?”

“What do you mean?” Thais demanded with a frown.

“Well isn’t your cousin from the elven city coming to visit?”

Thais laughed for a moment and nodded. She and Dahl had been in regular contact since her return to Titua. It would seem her elven cousin was equally as adventurous as herself and desired nothing more than the break free from the elven chains of Khaled-Dîn and see a bit of the world.

“She likes to think she will,” Thais replied happily. “We shall see if she manages to persuade her grandfather. She seems to think she can, but I’m not so sure. He really hated me.”

“Well it’s a start though isn’t it Thais?” Kaio spoke up, rolling around so that his face lay between the two girls on the floor. “I mean an elf wanting to leave the elven city, that’s a good start surely?”

Thais grinned and shrugged her shoulders.

“That’s what my father keeps saying.”

“You should listen to him,” Rachel insisted happily. “How is your father?”

Thais’ face fell slightly and she shook her head. How was her father? Had she thought their frank discussion in the boarding rooms at the Broken Horseshoe would make a difference to his secretive moods and his troubles then she would have been horribly disappointed. King Gallus seemed more preoccupied than ever.

“He worries about a lot of things,” Thais sighed. “Prime Minister Arbarus is causing him a lot of grief. The wretched man feels that now the people have voted him in that he can somehow overthrow my father…”

“Oh Thais,” Rachel laughed. “I’m sure he doesn’t feel he can do that!”

“Aye,” Kaio agreed. “He’s not so bad that Arbarus.”

Thais held her tongue. She would not speak freely about her own thoughts of the newly elected prime minister to these friends who thought him a hero of the people. Arbarus had come into power due to people just like Kaio and Rachel’s parents and the princess did not want this to become an issue their friendship would suffer from.

“What about your uncle Thais?” Kaio now asked, lowering his voice to as tactful tone as he could manage. He knew this to be a sore spot where the princess was concerned. Thais inhaled sharply and shook her head.

“Still missing,” she replied quickly. Rachel cast her cousin a severe look. Why did he have to mention Eunus? For a moment the children sat in silence while the sun dipped down between the trees in the royal gardens.

“Thais!” a cry sounded on the landing outside the princess’ door. The child jumped to her feet suddenly and gave her friends and urgent look. “Come for your dinner child, ‘tis getting cold.” That voice belonged to Avery.

“I’m coming!” the princess shouted back before she dropped her voice to a whisper. “Please stay! I feel I haven’t seen enough of you yet. I will come back as soon as I can!”

Kaio and Rachel exchanged a broad grin.

“We’re not going anywhere princess,” Kaio responded sincerely earning him a broad smile from the princess, who after one last look at her best friends ran from the room and into the corridor beyond.

As the sun set on the Green Palace of Titua a warm breeze flowed through the wide sweeping gardens, carried from far away in the south. The long winter was coming to an end. Soon spring would take hold of the city and in would stream the travellers, the merchants and the patricians. Life was flowing back to the heart of the nation and with it, despite the shadow that had been cast over her young life, Thais and her friends would flood back into the wilds to which they belonged.

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