One step, only one step separates her from her old home. Ashley usually only knocks on the door and her parents, Lydia and Charles, welcome her with open arms.But her situation is vastly different now. It’s not just about ringing an apartment door belonging to a normal couple among others in Moon City. This time she’s in front of the castle of the royal family of the Diamond Kingdom. She’s the sovereigns’ daughter, their one and only heiress.
The bright haired woman closes her eyes and sighs heavily, she turns around and notices the little gems are still behind her, probably waiting for her to get inside. They have no eyes and no mouth but she can feel their encouragements, the diamond soldiers are silently cheering her up. Ashley smiles and nods to them, she takes a short breath and crosses the gate. Surprisingly there are no guards to stop her, it seems like the rules have changed since the Mávros Army occupied the lands. The castle is now only one of the things left abandoned after the battle.
Ashley walks past a large piece of architecture, it’s all covered with black dust but she guesses it’s made of glass. It must have been a fountain before judging from the large basin. The young woman keeps walking, there’s no garden surrounding the castle, no sculptures or statues to decorate the ward. There are only diamond particles sprinkling on the snow covering the ground, mixed with dust of a terrifying darkness.
As she approaches the large glass building, she notices a shiny blue light in each of the gates surrounding it. It looks like a sort of portal resembling the one she walked into before landing on this kingdom. Is it magic? Ashley approaches the main gate, her eyes not leaving the strange light which makes her very curious to know what it is. She turns around to make sure the little soldiers are still following her, she thinks that they might want to protect her if the blue portals are a danger. For once she’s not scared, there’s something about the light and what’s behind it that eases her and makes her feel safe. Her hand touches it and it suddenly evaporates like smoke, opening the glass gate for her. Ashley walks inside and watches the blue ray go back to its position, guarding the entrance.
The interior shocks her, it has nothing to do with the castles she’s watched in movies or read about in the library. Instead of walls decorated with paintings and lamps, these ones are like mirrors, she can see her reflection every time she makes a step and it makes her a little nervous because she feels like she’s being followed when it’s only her in the corridor. Ashley gets anxious because she can’t see her small friends because the floor is fully made of blue diamond, making it harder for her to spot them. She looks down and keeps her eyes focused until she spots them moving near her and sighs out of relief.
“I’m telling you I heard the portal open.” Ashley stops when she hears a manly voice at the other end of the corridor. She gulps and wonders what she can do; run away or wait. Then she thinks that she has no reason to escape from someone when it’s supposed to be her castle. But what if there are Mávros soldiers inside?
“I thought there was no one else outside.” another one surges, belonging to a woman this time. She hears footsteps approaching but the loud pounding of her heart makes it hard for her to know if they’re soon to appear in front of her. Ashley clears her throat and stands confidently, placing her hands behind her back while she waits for the owner of the voices to arrive.
“It might be someone who got l-” the tall man stops speaking and stares at Ashley with wide eyes. He has a long white hair dropping to the lower back with a pair of braided locks arranged in the middle, he’s wearing white silk shirt and pants with a light blue jacket decorated with diamond embroideries. The stranger walks toward her, judging from his slow and elegant steps he must belong to the royal court if there’s any left. The blueness of his eyes reminds her of the ones she’s been dreaming of lately, she hopes they belong to him so that she finally gets the answers to her questions but as she looks at him she realizes they don’t have the same mysterious stare.
“Y-your majesty?” the man asks with a surprised tone. “Is it really you?” he walks around her, eyeing her from head to foot like he’s trying to confirm that his eyes are not playing tricks on him.
“Who are you?” asks Ashley nervously. “Do you live here?”
“For many years, yes.” he nods and keeps looking at the young woman for a moment. He then turns to the woman accompanying him and says, “Look at her eyes, my lady. I believe it is her.”
The woman has the same white hair as him except it’s all arranged in a single braid on her back. She’s wearing a necklace which goes well with the long blue dress that’s tracing her body perfectly. Her eyes rest on Ashley for a while, studying her features. “It is her, indeed.” she whispers. The two of them share a look and soon after they bow to Ashley making her look at them with surprise.
“Your majesty!” exclaims the man with a wide smile. “I cannot believe I am finally saying it.” he shakes his head in disbelief. “Welcome back home.” he lowers his head and Ashley sees a grin appearing. He waits for her to say something but the young woman doesn’t have a clue of what’s going on. Apart from the fact that she’s not used to have people bow to her or speak to her formally, she also doesn’t know who they are and if she can trust them.
“She does not recognize us.” the woman hits the man’s shoulder gently. “It must be the curse.”
“Oh, right. The curse.” the blue eyed looks at his queen sadly. “Well then, we shall introduce ourselves.” he nods and approaches Ashley. “Lord Evindal at your majesty’s service.” he bows. “I am the Royal Counselor since your late grandfather’s reign. It had been an honor to serve him and your parents, may the diamond bless them.”
“May the diamond bless them.” the woman repeats after him. She then smiles to Ashley and says, “I am Lady Lyrei, I was your mother’s maid and her closest friend.” she looks down for a moment, remembering the sufferings the late queen has gone through. “She always talked about you, about the strong and beautiful lady you will grow to be.”
“Really?” asks Ashley with a quiet voice. “How was she like?”
“Oh, she was a wonder.” says Lord Evindal before letting out a heavy sigh. “The bravest and gentlest person we have ever known.” a small smile takes place on his face. “You look just like she did.”
Ashley smiles back when she remembers the image she saw of her mother for a few seconds after opening the book. Back then she had no idea of who the beautiful white haired woman was but now, looking at the mirror walls surrounding her, she is certain that she is her mother’s daughter.
“Your majesty, you must be tired. Come with us to the main room, I’ll ask for food and for your chambers to be cleaned.” Lord Evindal speaks but the young woman doesn’t seem to have heard him as she is lost in her own thoughts. “Queen Ashryn?” he repeats and this time she looks at him with confused eyes. It is the first time that someone calls her by her real name which sounds odd but wakes up memories deep in her heart. Lord Evindal and Lady Lyrei wait for her patiently until she starts walking and they follow behind.
“What are the blue lights in the gates?” she asks.
“It’s a protection barrier.” answers the Royal Counselor. “They were made by warlocks during the war by your father’s order. Only pure diamond blood can pass through it. This is why the castle is now the safest place of the kingdom.”
The young Queen remembers the ruins she’s walked near before arriving to the castle and asks again, “Where are the people? What happened to them?”
She hears Lady Lyrei sigh, “Most of them died during the final battle. From children to elders, everyone left their homes to fight for their kingdom by the king and queen’s side. They gave their all, they fought and bled until they couldn’t anymore.” a tear descends on the lady’s cheek and she hurries to wipe it with her handkerchief. “Mávros came with an army of soldiers tripling the number of our people. It was a lost case, a hopeless one.”
“But they left with honor.” adds Lord Evindal. “They died as proud soldiers. May the diamond bless them.”
“May the diamond bless them.” Ashley finds herself repeating the words after them.
“Some of the survivors were killed later by the soldiers who keep coming back to collect diamonds and the rest are here in the castle.”
The Queen widens her eyes, “Here?”
The Royal Counselor nods, “The castle has many rooms and spaces and as it is the only place the soldiers cannot reach we thought it better to receive them here and have them live the rest of their life peacefully.”
Ashley smiles to Lord Evindal, “That’s very generous of you.”
“This generosity comes from your parents, your majesty. Anyone who befriended them knew kindness.”
The main hall is as large as the ward, the mirror walls are circling the room where there are a few couches, a large table that must have been used for gathering dinners and a small one for afternoon tea. It’s bright inside and the reflection of the blue diamond ground is decorating the wall making the round space look magical. “The best balls used to be organized here.” says Lord Evindal. “People from all six kingdoms desired to be invited and listen to Queen Kilyn play the harps while dancers are filling the hall with their beauty and their gracefulness.
Queen Ashryn sits on the couch after the maid pats the cushions to take the diamond dust off them. She tells her that she’ll come back with a warm drink and pastries and disappears, leaving her alone with the Royal Counselor.
“Tell me, Lord Evindal.” she watches the man sit in front of her and asks, “How are you feeding all the people in the castle? There are only ruins outside and the soldiers wander around, from where do you get all the food?”
The long haired man smiles and says, “The world is not fully cruel, your majesty. We might have lost our kingdom, our people but we have not lost our friends’ loyalty.” he looks around and sighs, “The Sapphire Kingdom has always been an enemy of ours, King Eldwin always refused your father’s request for an alliance between the two kingdoms. The late King thought it would be easier to win against Mávros if all the six kingdoms are united, but alas, our only allies were not strong enough to defeat the adversary. King Eldwin has always been selfish and wanted his power all for himself. He even refused to protect his son by trusting him with the warlocks’ magic like your parents did. But even if the Sapphires are not very fond of us, there’s only one person who truly loved coming here.”
“Who?” Ashryn asks curiously.
“The Crown Prince.” Lord Evindal smiles. “Eldwin’s son is his entire opposite. A decent young man who knows courtesy and goodness. Without his father knowing, he has been sending food and clothes to our castle for years.” he sighs and looks at his queen with sad eyes, “I am still praying day and night for the day of our freedom so that I can thank him for his generosity and his kind heart.”
Ashryn wonders how’s this mysterious prince like. He has been doing what’s considered her own duty during all the years she spent in a lie of a world. “I’d like to thank him too, for saving my people from hunger. I’d like to meet him, and also I’d like to see my friends. They must have landed in their kingdoms; Silver, Ruby and Emerald.”
“Your majesty.” the man offers her a kind smile, “Wandering outside the castle is dangerous. The black hooded soldiers visit the lands every day, you risk getting killed and it is the last thing we need right now.”
“Then I shall learn how to defend myself.” she stands up and looks at Lord Evindal seriously. The Royal Counselor can’t help but being surprised, what he sees now are her mother’s fearless stare, her father’s confident stature and both her parents’ burning heart. That’s the moment when he knew the years of exhausting confinement are about to change.