Flight Chapter 16
For the first time in her life, Thaleia felt a distinct sense of pleasure at watching a garment take shape. She’d always considered the pastime of sewing or knitting to be beyond boring, preferring instead to undertake activities of a more active nature. But now Thaleia could honestly state to almost enjoy the new nightly routine of making nettle yarn with her sisters, in spite of her stinging hands. She would even go so far as to say that the hours they spent crushing nettles had become rather the highlight of her day.
Then again, considering she spent most of her days sporting wings and feathers, perhaps this wasn’t saying much.
Still, Thaleia couldn’t help feeling proud as she looked at their ever-growing supply of yarn. Having five of the six sisters spinning ensured that Raia was never in demand for more thread—a tall order, as she also spent several hours knitting during the day as well. Raia completed the first of the five shawls after eleven days’ work, and the princesses could not help cheering softly when she cut the thread. This small accomplishment seemed to light a fire under them, and they returned to their work with increased vigor.
The princesses felt this renewed enthusiasm throughout the following day. Both Callia and Cliodne had managed to fill their pillow-pouches to the brim with new nettles, and the five swan princesses were almost eager to get their hands on them. Petra had managed to steal several pairs of sturdy gloves the day before from the Deturian royal gardeners. While the thick fabric made it slightly more difficult for them to handle the nettle leaves and bark, the gloves were effective at protecting their hands from the plant’s stinging.
Yet their enthusiasm for their task abated upon entering the bedchamber and seeing that for the first time, Raia was not there waiting for them. Thaleia’s heart clenched.
“What if Soran’s found out about us?” She all but whispered, gesturing towards Callia’s bulging bag of nettles. Her sisters’ faces mirrored the worry she was feeling.
“I think there’s only one way to find out.” Petra said, and knelt down on the floor to peer under the bed at their hidden cache of nettles. She gave a yelp of triumph as she pulled the dress out. Their stash remained untouched.
Petra nodded decisively. “That was by far our worst hiding spot,” she said. “If Soran had found anything, he would have found that.” Thaleia was still unconvinced.
“Then where’s Raia?” She asked Petra stubbornly. Cliodne was the one to venture a guess.
“Soran probably held just her up at dinner.” She said. “I’m sure she’ll be here soon. And until then, there’s no harm in spinning a little thread to take our minds off of our worry.”
Thaleia’s sisters nodded in agreement, moving to remove the supplies from their different hiding spots. Thaleia followed rather reluctantly. She shimmied to the top of the furthest bedpost and helped Petra remove the spinning wheel from where it hung around the curtain rod. This spot had been the only place they’d found to hide their largest tool, though they’d initially been afraid that the wheel might break from hanging in such a way. Thus far, however, the wood of the spinning wheel had proven itself to be stronger than it appeared.
Once the spinning wheel had been firmly placed on the ground, the five princesses fell into their yarn-making routine—with one notable exception. Eurielle had been given a different task for the time being. Armed with a single glass, the youngest sister was given the responsibility of listening at the door for approaching footsteps.
“We’ll need extra time to hide our supplies before any guards see them.” Cliodne shot a pointed look at Thaleia and added, “After all, when Raia comes back, she likely won’t be alone.”
Cliodne was right. The moment Eurielle warned them of approaching footsteps, the sisters sprung into action, shoving supplies out of sight. Thaleia had only just finished concealing the spinning wheel once more when the door opened, admitting Raia. She let out a small gasp of relief at the sight of her twin, followed by a hiss of rage upon seeing the person who entered next.
It was Lord Soran, in all his hated glory.
Thaleia stretched her fingers, and she had to fight the urge to scratch out the man’s eyes.
Soran positively beamed at them all.
“Good evening, m’ladies!” He greeted them cheerfully.
Thaleia mentally pictured herself punching him in the mouth. ‘Bet he wouldn’t smile so much if he was missing a couple of teeth.’ She thought, tempted almost beyond her own restraint.
Soran seemed to notice nothing of Thaleia’s inner turmoil. “I know you must all be wondering for what purpose I’ve come tonight,” he said. “And I wouldn’t dream of leaving you hanging for long!”
Thaleia’s attention was suddenly caught by Raia. Her twin’s eyes held a hint of panic, and Thaleia felt a sudden stab of dread.
“Congratulations are in order!” Soran exclaimed, placing his hand on Raia’s shoulder. “Your sister and I are engaged to be married!”
Thaleia’s jaw dropped. The rest of her sisters looked just as thunderstruck and horrified as she felt, with the obvious exception of Raia. Raia’s expression was similar to that of a doe trapped on all sides by hunting dogs.
Soran seemed amused at their reactions. “Of course,” he said playfully, “Such an occasion should be celebrated with more fanfare--glasses of champagne at the very least! But that will have to wait until tomorrow night, after the official announcement has been made. Still, I simply felt that telling Raia’s family was the first and most important thing to do.”
At Soran’s last statement, Raia’s eyes connected with Thaleia’s. She seemed to be trying to tell her something, yet Thaleia could not think what that might be. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Cliodne sit down heavily in an armchair, as though her legs had suddenly given out.
Soran clearly noticed Cliodne’s action as well. For a moment his smile dimmed slightly, and Thaleia thought she saw something in his eyes that resembled…could that be regret? Soran removed his hand from Raia’s shoulder. When he spoke, however, his voice was just as mockingly jovial as it had ever been.
“I imagine that you will have plenty to talk about,” he said, turning to leave the room. “What with new wedding plans to gossip about. So I shall leave you for tonight.”
The door closed behind him, and silence reigned in his wake. The sisters merely stared at Raia, lost for words and eager for the explanation that their sister was unable to give. Not verbally, at least.
Raia reached into the bodice of her dress and removed a piece of parchment that she had taken to hiding there. Already half-covered with inked-on phrases, the piece of parchment had become Raia’s sole method of communicating with her sisters. Thaleia handed her a quill, and she immediately started scribbling furiously. The princesses all gathered around to read over her shoulder as she wrote.
Eralie’s response came. My invitation didn’t work. She’s not coming.
Thaleia shrugged. They had all known that strategy for luring Eralie to Deturus had been a long shot. Thaleia was rather surprised that Soran had thought that it would have worked at all.
But Cliodne seemed to understand immediately where Raia was going with her explanation.
“And Soran thinks that Eralie is sure to come to Deturus if one of her sisters is getting married.” She concluded, closing her eyes.
Raia nodded, and the princesses all drew in their breaths sharply. Thaleia furrowed her brow as a thought struck her. “But if that’s what he thinks,” she said to Cliodne. “Why would Raia be the one he’d choose to get engaged to? I mean, I know she’s not a swan at all, but she’s still only just arrived a couple weeks ago. You’ve been here for months.” The last statement sounded almost like an accusation, and Thaleia felt a bit shamed after she’d said it. After all, Cliodne was certainly not the one to blame for Soran’s choosing Raia as his purported fiancée.
Cliodne did not seem bothered by Thaleia’s tone. She considered her sister’s words for a moment, and then started as though a sudden thought had struck her. Her face filled with fury.
“He read my letters!” She whispered in outrage.
Thaleia laughed a little. “And that surprises you?” She asked her elder sister sarcastically.
“It’s not…I just…in one of my letters,” Cliodne fumbled for words. “I mentioned to Eralie that there was…someone…here in Deturus that I…respected. She asked whether there was any danger of me…of my not returning to Kyoria. I told her no, that a couple weeks—or even a couple months--wasn’t long enough to know for sure. I said that I wasn’t such a romantic that I would jump into such a big decision like she might. Or…like Raia might.”
Cliodne looked at Raia, an agonized expression on her face. “I think that’s why Soran chose you. Because of what I wrote…and because he thinks that Eralie might actually believe that you would…that you might get engaged to someone you…didn’t know very well.” Cliodne’s eyes pleaded with Raia for forgiveness. Raia placed one hand on her elder sister’s arm, indicating a forgiveness that she could not vocalize. In that moment, Thaleia admired her twin sister’s mercy. She, herself, could not help feeling a bit angry at Cliodne’s admission, though she also recognized a hint of truth in what her sister had written. Of them all, softhearted, artistic Raia was the one who would have been most likely to fall in love with a complete stranger.
Cliodne seemed to collect herself, and when she spoke again, her voice was practical once more. “Has Soran forced you to write Eralie yet?” She asked Raia. Raia shook her head and wrote again on her parchment.
Thaleia felt a sudden jolt of determination. “Well, that’s not happening.” She declared, glancing around at all of her sisters before focusing her gaze on Raia. Her shoulders straightened. “Because we’re getting out of here.”