Flight of the Five Swans

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Fear Chapter 5

Raia

Throughout the two weeks that the Kyorians had been travelling, Raia had been picturing the border between Kyoria and Deturus as a raging river over which a glorious golden bridge was built. The Deturian side of the bridge would of course be drastically different from Kyoria’s green trees and foliage, though Raia hadn’t yet decided on exactly how the environment would inevitably change. At certain moments, she pictured glorious golden sands stretching as far as the eye could see. At others, she was certain they would find steep mountains covered in snow all year round, not excluding the summer months.

But the border was nothing like Raia had pictured, and truth be told, she was disappointed. There was no river, no bridge, and certainly no radical change in scenery. In fact, there wasn’t much change in scenery at all. Raia highly doubted that she—or any of her sisters—would have noticed that they were even crossing the border had not Alexandre seen fit to point it out. He reined in the company just long enough to show them a solitary tree on the edge of the path. On one side of the tree was carved Kyoria and on the other side, Deturus.

“That’s it?” Thaleia blurted out, sounding just as disappointed as her twin. The guards laughed, as did Callia, who had clearly been more informed than her younger sisters as to the markers—or lack thereof—that would be used to indicate the border.

Still chuckling, Alexandre explained. “You must remember, your Highness, that this path is not often used. The main road does, of course, have a sign indicating where Kyoria ends and Deturus begins, but such a luxury would be rather ridiculous here, as this secluded area is seen by less than a dozen travellers a year.”

Thaleia shrugged as the company moved forward once again. Raia could tell that her twin was still a little let down, and she couldn’t blame her. Up until three years ago, none of the seven princesses had ever ventured much further than the village nearest the Kyorian royal palace, as their father simply hadn’t allowed it. Though Gustave had since become much less strict about his daughters’ travelling liberties, the opportunity to visit a foreign nation had thus far not arisen for any of the princesses save the two eldest. This was the first time the younger sisters had traveled outside Kyoria’s borders, and truth be told, Raia had been expecting more fanfare at the occasion.

Eurielle leaned over to Raia as if to tell her a secret, only to speak in a normal voice. “I asked Baelor, and he told me that we’ll be intersecting the main road in just a couple of days and we’ll turn onto it then. But we still won’t hit any towns or villages until another three weeks, Baelor says. Oh, and we’ll get there in about a month, did I tell you that?”

Raia smiled. “’There’ being the Deturian palace, I presume?”

“Didn’t I say that? I thought I said that.”

Raia shook her head in cheerful exasperation. Eurielle seemed about to say something more when she was distracted by the sound of a distant birdcall echoing through the forest. She gasped and kicked her horse into a trot, leaving Raia behind in order to join Baelor near the front of the company. Raia could hear her calling out ahead of her, “A lark! Am I right? It was a lark! Baelor, did you hear it?”

Raia reined in her horse a bit, allowing Callia to catch her up. As usual, Callia was staring intently around at the forest undergrowth—an action, Raia noticed, that was also being copied by Killian and Niall, the guards who rode almost directly behind her.

“There’s one!” Killian suddenly cried, a huge smile on his weathered face as he pointed. Niall groaned, while Callia checked the image of the plant in the book to see whether Killian was correct. Raia followed their gaze, immediately recognizing the indicated plant: amaranth. Definitely edible.

Callia nodded, and Niall groaned again. Another plant was chosen and the game began again, this time with Raia joining in as well.

Over the next couple of weeks, Raia found herself marking their progress through the now-Deturian forest according to the species of flora included in their game. In Kyoria, it had always been laughably easy to identify chicory, curled dock, or amaranth, whereas it had often taken them hours to spot a single sprig of burdock or sorrel. However, the further into Deturus they travelled, the more Raia saw the latter two species in the surrounding foliage. She had also started to see several plants that she was unable to recognize at all, forcing her to consult Callia’s book in an attempt to identify them.

“The trouble is,” she complained to Callia as she leafed through the pages one evening, “if the plant isn’t edible, but also isn’t terribly poisonous, it’s nowhere to be found in here!”

Callia clucked sympathetically and patted her shoulder. “Believe me, I understand the frustration. But we should be passing through a town in the next couple days. You might be able to find someone there you can ask.”

Raia was already planning on doing just that. She had started to keep a list of the plants she would have to ask about, writing down descriptions and sometimes sketching their appearances. Still, she continued turning the pages, straining to see the images by the light of the dancing fire.

“I’d rather not wait, if it can be helped.” she said, then huffed in frustration as she reached the last page. She slammed the volume shut. The noise startled Eurielle, who sat on the other side of the fire.

“This book is useless.” Raia said, handing it back to Callia. “Why didn’t you grab something more…I don’t know…comprehensive?”

Callia laughed slightly as she packed the volume away again. “Blame Thaleia for that.”

“Blame me for what?”

As if summoned by the mention of her name, Thaleia appeared out of the shadows. She perched on the log beside Raia and looked around brightly at her sisters. Raia nudged her with her elbow.

“Nothing, really. Where have you been?”

Thaleia waved her hand dismissively, “Oh, just telling the Captain about something strange I found earlier.”

“Strange? What’s strange?” From her seat next to Eurielle, Petra leaned forward curiously.

Thaleia’s eyes sparkled mischievously. Her voice dropped slightly, forcing them all to lean in closer to hear.

“Early this morning, as we were all packing up camp, I scouted around to make sure no one had forgotten anything. And that’s when I saw them.”

“Saw what?” Eurielle whispered. Raia rolled her eyes, more at Thaleia’s flair for drama than Eurielle’s question. Clearly, Callia was not the only princess who fancied herself a storyteller.

Thaleia’s voice dropped even lower. “There were tracks just under the treeline, bigger than any I’ve seen—almost the size of my hand.” She held up the mentioned appendage as demonstration. “They were clear as can be—and fresh, too. No more than an hour old, at most. As if the animal had stood there…and watched us…while we slept.”

Raia was sure that the pauses in the story had been strategically timed for dramatic effect—and it was working. Thaleia’s face looked ghastly in the firelight, adding to the spooky ambience that she had already created. Eurielle shivered, and she wasn’t the only princess to do so. Of them all, only Petra seemed unaffected by the story.

“The tracks were from an animal I hadn’t seen before.” Thaleia continued. “And when I asked Alexandre what had made them, he was surprised. He told me that this creature must have travelled from far, far away to watch our camp last night.”

Raia caught her breath as Thaleia leaned forward even further, her voice now just above a whisper.

“They were the tracks of…a swan.”

Eurielle shrieked, more out of expectation than fear, then caught herself as comprehension sunk in at last. “Wait, what?”

Thaleia was already laughing almost too hard to respond, and it only took a moment for Petra to join in. Raia and Callia both left out almost identical sounds of half-exasperation, half-relief.

“Your faces!” Thaleia choked out between giggles. Raia shoved her a bit, and she had to catch herself before she fell off the log.

It took awhile for Thaleia to stop laughing, and even longer for Raia’s heartbeat to return to normal. Eurielle caught Callia’s sleeve just as the sisters were turning in for the night, and Raia distinctly heard her ask, “You’re not writing that down, are you?”

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