Flight of the Five Swans

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Flight Chapter 12

Petra

The sun was just beginning to set when Petra felt it: a strange force pulled at her insides, steering her back towards the Deturian palace. For an instant, she was tempted to try to fight the feeling. She hated being controlled. But then her swan sisters all turned to face in the direction of the pull, and she rushed to keep up with them. The feeling got stronger the closer Petra and her sisters flew to the castle, leading her directly towards the lake on the palace grounds. From her lofty position soaring above them, she saw a number of guards surrounding the glassy water, clearing waiting for the swans to debark. Again, Petra hesitated. She was less than eager to fall into Soran’s hands again. But at this close distance, the invisible force telling her to land became too strong to resist. She banked around and descended, her four swan sisters keeping pace with her on either side.

The splash as the swans hit the water was immense, drenching several of the guards standing nearest the pond. Petra felt a small surge of satisfaction at the sight of their now-dripping figures. The idiots deserved it.

Then the pain hit, driving all other thoughts from her head. A burning sensation surrounded her, as though her very feathers had caught fire. Her bones cracked and stretched, and Petra wanted to scream at the agony. She had broken her arm once as a child in an attempt to scale the castle wall back home; the pain she’d felt then was absolutely nothing compared to this.

And all of a sudden, it was over. Petra found herself on her hands and knees in the middle of the pond. She thanked fate that the water was shallower than she’d expected. While her entire body was now soaked up to her shoulders, at least her face was not underwater. She struggled to her feet, weighted down by the damp fabric of her borrowed dress.

Of her sisters, only Cliodne had been able to remain standing following the transformation from swan to human, and Petra resolved to discover her secret at the earliest convenience. Cliodne was helping Thaleia, pulling on her elbow to help her regain her feet. Callia was not yet trying to stand, but merely crawled through the murky water to reach the edge of the pond. Eurielle was on her hands and knees like Petra had been, and like Callia, she was not making an attempt to stand. The transformation seemed to have hit her the hardest of the sisters, and she was dry retching into the water.

“Out of the water!” one of the guards yelled. Petra looked up at him, and saw that the man who had spoken was one of those who had been caught in the impromptu shower. She also recognized him as having been among their escort early that morning. Sure enough, a black-and-blue bruise on the back of his hand marked him as a victim of their vicious beaks.

‘I hope it was me who’d bit him.’ Petra thought sourly.

Cliodne, ever the diplomat, called out to the guards in a reasonable voice. “We need help. She needs help.” She pointed to where Eurielle still knelt. “They’ve never transformed before.”

The guards looked at the youngest princess. Eurielle’s face was still green, but she had stopped retching into the water. The same guard spoke again, and not a hint of pity could be heard in his voice.

“Then you help her out.”

Growling internally, Petra sloshed in the water to reach her younger sister. She grabbed one of Eurielle’s arms and Cliodne grabbed the other. Together, they lifted Eurielle to her feet. Petra put her sister’s arm around her own neck to support her as they climbed out of the water. The other princesses were all able to stand without assistance, though Thaleia still seemed a little unsteady to be standing on human legs once more.

The guards fell in around the five sisters as they walked, shivering, across the palace yard. None of the princesses spoke until they had crossed the threshold of the castle doors.

“Where are you taking us?” Callia asked, her voice sounding utterly exhausted.

Thankfully, it was a different guard who answered than before.

“To your chamber.”

In her mind’s eye, Petra pictured the small room from the previous night. Her limbs, already sore from the transformation, not to mention from flying all day, complained at the thought of another night spent sleeping in an armchair.

“Where’s Raia?”

Though the question came from Thaleia, there was very little anger to be heard in her voice. Rather, Thaleia sounded fearful, nothing remotely like the brave elder sister that Petra looked up to—though she seldom admitted it.

None of the guards responded. They simply led the sisters up the marble stairs and down a long, twisted corridor, different from the one they had walked before. The group stopped before a heavy black door. One of the Deturians took out a key and fitted it into the lock. Stepping aside, he allowed the princesses to enter the room.

Petra did not notice the sound of the door closing them. Her attention—and that of all of her sisters—were caught by the figure already waiting for them inside the room.

Raia.

Thaleia threw her arms around her twin with a glad cry of relief. Petra tried to help Eurielle to the bed before greeting Raia herself, but her younger sister was having none of it. Eurielle slipped her arm from around Petra’s neck and stumbled to join the group of sisters hugging in the middle of the room. Clamoring to be heard over each other, they bombarded Raia with questions about her day, leaving little opportunity for their sister to answer. Finally though, the sisters had settled enough to allow Raia to speak. Sitting on the beds around her, they listened intently as she recounted the request Soran had made of her.

“I didn’t know what else to do!” she wailed, and the others were quick to reassure her.

“I think I would have done the same thing.” Eurielle said, reaching around Thaleia to pat Raia’s hand.

Cliodne nodded, thoughtful. “I don’t think you did wrong. And I don’t think that letter will work, anyway.”

Petra agreed. “Eralie won’t come just because you ask her to.” She said slowly. “She was very decisive about her refusal to come with us in the first place. She was certain she was needed in Kyoria.”

“And remember,” Thaleia told Raia. “We all tried for days to talk her into coming. If convincing her in person didn’t work, I don’t see how sending her a new invitation by letter really gives us anything to worry about.”

The relief on Raia’s face mirrored the sentiments felt by all of them. The idea that Eralie was safe from Soran’s net—even momentarily—was certainly a welcome one.

Then Petra frowned slightly. “What I don’t understand,” she mused. “Is why Soran isn’t trying to use us as hostages, and get Eralie here as some sort of…ransom demand.”

Eurielle and Thaleia echoed her confusion, but Cliodne was already shaking her head. “Admitting he has us imprisoned would be tantamount to declaring war on Kyoria. It might even be seen as an act of war against the entire Council of Kings. And if I’m not very much mistaken, Soran isn’t ready for that yet. But after he has all of us here and he’s…drained us…” her voice trailed off, and Callia finished her thought.

“Then he wouldn’t see war with Kyoria or the Council as a problem anymore.”

Cliodne sighed deeply. “And if that’s the case, he might not stop at Kyoria. We don’t know exactly much power he’ll be able to get.”

Petra shook her head. The thought was a troubling one, to be sure. Soran had already managed to change five people into animals just by using small samples of their remnant Faerie magic. What might he not be able to accomplish with all of it?

Suddenly, Eurielle bolted upright, her voice excited. “If he’s so eager not to let Father and Eralie know that he’s got us locked up, then wouldn’t it be a good thing if we…I don’t know…told them somehow? They might even find a way to free us without having to go to war!” Her eyes were full of optimism and a certainty that their father would be able to do just that.

“How?” Petra asked her dryly. “Something tells me we can’t just drop a note in the post.”

Eurielle deflated.

“And besides,” Petra continued. “Soran with one hostage is bad enough.” She nodded towards Cliodne. “But six hostages? Getting all of us out would be difficult, if not impossible, to manage from afar.”

Cliodne nodded at her thoughtfully. “So basically,” she said slowly, and Petra could practically see the wheels turning in her head. “having the six of us as prisoners has given Soran far too much leverage over Father. Even if Father were to find out, there’s not much he can do about it, short of declaring war. So what we need to do…” With a sudden grin of comprehension, Petra finished her sister’s sentence for her.

“We take away the hostages.”

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