Flight of the Five Swans

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Fear Chapter 3

Callia

If there was one thing that Callia hated more than anything else in the world, it was packing. True, she didn’t need to worry about folding her things, or fitting them in her traveling trunk; Valeria took care of those particular tasks for all of the princesses, and the woman was a genius at it—not to mention a perfectionist. On one occasion, Callia had folded and packed her belongings herself, thinking to save Valeria the trouble. The housekeeper had chucked her under the chin in thanks, only to empty and then repack the trunk when she thought Callia wasn’t looking.

After that, Callia left those aspects of packing to Valeria.

Besides, it wasn’t the actual packing of her things that bothered Callia, anyway, but rather the task of deciding what to pack. Clothes was one thing, but as far as she was concerned, selecting the books she wanted to bring was the most important aspect of travelling—and the most difficult. No matter how hard Callia tried, limiting herself to just a couple of volumes that would fit into her saddlebags never seemed to get any easier. If anything, she found it harder than ever.

Standing in the library, Callia had already made a small pile of ‘possibilities’ on the desk behind her—a pile that was slowly becoming taller and taller the longer she browsed.

“Hmmm, there’s always duBois’ collection of verse.” She muttered to herself, taking the volume down off the shelf and leafing through it. “It’s been a couple of months since I’ve read it all through.”

Decision made, the book joined its brothers in her pile.

Callia turned her gaze back to the shelf, humming thoughtfully as her fingers caressed the beloved spines. Oh, if only there was a way she could bring them all with her! If only she had a magic book that contained all the stories in the world. It was not the first time this thought had filled Callia’s mind, nor would it be the last. Though it seemed impossible, it was a favorite dream of hers to one day find such a volume.

“A priceless treasure.” She said dreamily.

Running footsteps sounded from the corridor outside, breaking Callia from her page-filled daydreams. The library doors flew open, and Thaleia appeared, panting slightly.

“You’re here.” She stated almost accusingly. “Of course you’re here, how did I know you’d be here?”

Callia stared in bemusement at her sister’s flushed face. “I was just selecting my reading material for the trip.”

Thaleia huffed impatiently. “Well, there won’t be a trip if you don’t hurry! We’re all ready to leave!”

That shocking statement was enough to snap Callia out of her library-induced fog. “What?” she gasped. “But we aren’t leaving until—“

“Ten o’clock!” Thaleia stated, hands on her hips. “Which was ten minutes ago!”

Callia started in horror. “But,“ she said weakly, “but I haven’t picked my books yet!”

Thaleia sighed impatiently and stomped to the desk. “These are your options?” she asked, looking through the pile. Callia nodded dumbly. “And how many can you take?”

“Only three.” Callia groaned in very real pain.

“Then you’ll take this one, and this one and….this one. Now come on!”

Callia watched, dumbfounded, as Thaleia snatched three volumes at random out of the pile and stuffed them into the bag waiting on the chair. She did not even get the chance to look at the books her sister had selected for her; Thaleia shoved the bag into her arms and then grabbed her hand, pulling her at a half-run out of the library and down the stairs to the middle hall.

The two princesses did not stop moving until they were outside the front doors of the castle. The rest of the royal family was waiting for them in the palace yard, along with twelve mounted guards, all stationed around the Kyorian family carriage. Callia winced to see the enclosed transport. Eurielle had gotten violently ill on the last occasion they had ridden in it. Both Petra’s and Callia’s good shoes had never recovered, and they’d had to be discarded. Fortunately, the carriage would only be needed on this voyage for luggage transport, as well as possible shelter in cases of acclimate weather. For the most part, the princesses would be riding astride like the members of their mounted escort, all of whom were seasoned travellers highly familiar with the route they were to take.

The guards were also all male, for though a decree had been passed nearly two years prior allowing women to enlist in the royal guard, training for the position took at least four years to complete. As such, none of the women who had since joined the ranks were yet properly trained to serve as escort to the royal family.

“We’re here!” Thaleia called out cheerfully. “I found her!”

Raia and Eurielle clapped and cheered. Both were already mounted on their horses, ready to depart. Petra was adjusting the stirrups of her mount, having just bid goodbye to Gustave, Eralie, and Ty.

Callia stepped towards the three being left behind. “Sorry, Father. I lost track of the time.”

Gustave chuckled. “I guessed as much. Did you select well?”

Callia nodded, then hesitated. “At least, I think so.”

“Then travel well, my bookworm.” He kissed her forehead and gave her a squeeze, a sheen of tears in his eyes. She breathed in the familiar woodsy scent of his doublet, committing it to memory

Callia stepped back and turned to Eralie and Ty, throwing her arms around her sister without a moment’s hesitation. “I wish you were coming too!” she murmured, and felt, rather than saw, her sister nod.

“I know.” Eralie’s voice was muffled. “But you’ll just have to write, won’t you, and tell me all about it? We all know that’ll be no sacrifice for you.”

“We certainly do. I’m expecting a whole book,” Ty joked.

Callia laughed, stepping out of her sister’s arms and embracing Ty as well.

Her goodbyes completed, she walked to where her horse stood waiting. A stable boy held onto the reins to prevent the mount from moving suddenly, but this was unnecessary. Azure was a bay gelding that she’d ridden countless times before; he stood still as a rock as Callia stuffed the canvas bag with her books into the saddlebag, and then mounted with no need for assistance.

Seeing the entire party mounted and ready to leave, captain of the guard Alexandre motioned them all forward into a line, leading the way himself. Callia waved goodbye one last time, then nudged Azure’s side with her heels so he fell in line with the rest of the horses.

Shortly after leaving the palace gates, Thaleia led her mount to walk beside Callia’s, grinning at her excitedly. “And we’re on our way! At last! Adventure awaits!”

Callia smiled as well. Thaleia cocked her head a bit, twisting her mouth to the side.

“I’m sorry for pulling,” she said, and Callia glanced at her in surprise.

“Oh, my arm?” Callia shrugged. “It didn’t hurt. Besides, I needed the push—or pull, really. I could have stayed there for hours!”

Thaleia snorted. “I’ll say. You sure didn’t notice the rest of us waiting for you.”

Callia opened her mouth to apologize, but Thaleia was already shaking her head to forestall her.

“It’s okay, really. You think you’re the only one who has a hard time picking what to bring along? I swear, it took me three hours last night to settle on my second-best blade. I was afraid of tarnishing my first, or even losing it! And this one’s nearly as good, anyway.”” She patted her hip, and for the first time Callia noticed the sword attached to her sister’s belt. She shouldn’t have been surprised; Thaleia had been training in swordplay for years. Still, Callia wasn’t accustomed to seeing her sister actually wearing a sword.

Adventure awaits.

Thaleia leaned slightly closer to her as if to share a secret, and jerked her head up to where Raia was riding next to Eurielle.

“And Ray has been changing her mind every ten minutes for the last two days. Couldn’t decide which of her dresses she wanted to debut—the one she made or the other one she made.”

Raia’s voice drifted back to them. “I heard that.”

Callia laughed, and Thaleia joined in rather sheepishly.

It was only after they had been riding for well over an hour that Callia realized she had yet to look at the books Thaleia had grabbed for her. She knotted Azure’s reins and wedged them behind the saddle horn, confident that he would continue following the horse in front of him. Twisting in her saddle, she pulled the books from the saddlebag and read the titles. There was the duBois volume of poetry, as well as a collection of one-act plays that she’d read at least ten times, and a book on edible plants and fungi that she’d been intending to study for ages.

“Hmm. Not bad.” Perhaps letting Thaleia pick her books at random was the packing strategy she’d needed all along.

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