Flight of the Five Swans

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Fear Chapter 1

Eralie

Once upon a time in the kingdom of Kyoria, the dinner hour was one to be feared, almost dreaded. Fights were won and lost through the rapid exchange of edible projectiles, and many a garment had been tarnished in the course of battle.

But that was long ago.

And truth be told, Eralie sometimes missed those days, though she was sure that her father did not. Indeed, King Gustave seemed to relish the newfound peace that reigned at the family’s evening meals, though one could certainly not call their repasts quiet. While the king currently spoke in hushed tones to Prince Ty, Eralie’s husband of three years, the other conversations taking place around the dining table ranged as much in volume as they did in topic.

Across the table from Eralie, twenty-three year old Callia spoke in a slightly louder voice than she was wont to, so as to be heard by Eurielle at the end of the table. The youngest daughter at 19, Eurielle was the accepted music aficionado of the group. For the last several weeks, she and Callia had been working together on a musical production for the village theater, with Callia contributing lyrics and Eurielle, the music. Since the start of this newest pet project, even the most mundane conversation with either sister invariably turned to their current work-in-progress. As they were now in the final stages of rewrites, their dinnertime chat was interspersed with hummed or sung snatches of songs, as well as slightly heated debates regarding the exact number of syllables needed in a certain refrain.

The interchange—or interchanges—underway between the sisters sitting at the middle of the table were of an entirely different vein. Twin sisters Thaleia and Raia were talking over each other haphazardly, each using their dinner knives to demonstrate to the other the proper grip to use when holding a paint brush (Raia) and wielding a rapier (Thaleia). Though their exchange was lightning-fast and borderline convoluted, Thaleia was yet able to simultaneously recount the story of her most recent jousting lesson to the sister sitting across from her, 20-year-old Petra. Whether Petra was impressed at Thaleia’s ability to maintain two coherent conversations at once was unclear. As always, the stoic expression on her face radiated an apathy that her family had come to expect from her.

Of Eralie’s sisters, only Cliodne did not—and could not—contribute to the babble of voices around the dining table, as she was quite simply not present that evening. Though only one year Eralie’s junior, 25-year-old Cliodne had already travelled to more neighboring countries than their father; her position as the official Kyorian ambassador required her to spend weeks if not months abroad when discussing the terms of various alliances. She had been negotiating a trade agreement with the kingdom of Deturus, Kyoria’s neighbor to the south, for the past year and a half. Though the majority of negotiations had initially been completed via correspondence, Cliodne had been spending the last four months as the honored guest of the Deturian ruler, King Einor, in order to finalize the terms of their agreement.

As if the thought of her absent sister were contagious, Eralie’s attention was caught by the low utterance of “Cliodne” mentioned in the conversation between her husband and her father.

Curious, she leaned slightly closer to the two men. She was nearly touching Ty’s elbow when he spoke again.

“I can’t answer for her, sire. You’ll have to ask her. Ask all of them.”

“Ask me what?”

Ty jumped slightly at her interjection into their conversation, then chuckled at how close she’d leaned without him noticing. Gustave nodded and cleared his throat, then tapped his fork against the side of his wine goblet. Though the resulting chime was not overly loud, it had the desired effect. The princesses’ chattering died down, and they all turned to look at their father with a mixture of surprise and expectation.

Gustave reached into his vest and withdrew a folded piece of paper from his inner pocket.

“I received another letter from Deturus today.” He began, and excited whispers broke out around the table. Letters from Cliodne were not only welcomed by the royal family in Kyoria, but were highly anticipated occasions.

“Actually, I received two missives. The first, as you’ve likely guessed, is from your sister. She writes that the trade agreement is likely to be finalized within the next two months at most.”

At the news, wide smiles graced every face, and mini celebrations were had around the table. Callia and Raia high-fived each other while Eurielle clapped her hands several times. Thaleia let out a whoop that was louder than necessary. After nearly two years of work, it was satisfying to have the end in sight.

And,” Gustave said, raising his voice with an indulgent smile. The table quieted once more. “As for the second letter. King Einor writes to formally invite all of us to the festivities that will be held at the end of two months time in honor of the completed agreement.”

If Cliodne’s news had been greeted with excitement, then the princesses’ response to this announcement was nothing short of enthusiastic. Yet King Gustave had not finished.

“Now, I can’t go, what with new...issues arising with Ithcar.”

“Nor can I, for the same reason.” Ty interjected, glancing meaningfully at Eralie. She frowned slightly. As far as she knew, the king of Ithcar had been threatening war with Kyoria since before she had been born, but thus far they had all been empty threats. Had something changed?

Gustave nodded at his son-in-law. “And for that, I’m grateful. But as for the rest, I shall leave the decision of whether or not to attend to each of you individually.”

Not even a moment had passed before Eurielle exclaimed, “Well, I’m in!” Her response was almost immediately echoed by the rest of the younger sisters, who were no doubt picturing grand adventures and fancy balls in a foreign land.

Eralie said nothing. She, too, craved adventure, and she was sure that Deturus held plenty for them all. But the look in her husband’s eyes gave her pause. He wouldn’t stop her from going, if that was what she truly wanted, but she somehow knew that something more was at play here. Was Ithcar declaring war? Was that the real reason they were being encouraged to leave? She glanced up and found Ty looking at her. One glance into his eyes and her decision was made. Between possible war here with Ty and adventure in Deturus without him, there was no contest.

“We’d best start making preparations for your journey, then.” Though Eralie spoke to her sisters, her gaze remained on her husband. “I’m needed here.”

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