Princess of Sofiene
“Princess, don’t you have anything more engaging to do?”
A petite woman absent-mindedly brushed the long black hair of her royal charge. Princess Anastacia da Sofiene, the last heiress to the throne of Sofiene, hovered her fingers over the aging pages before floating over to the next page. She coughed a little as dust rose from the crumbling pages of the book.
“Well, unless you will let me walk around then, reading is all I get to do," Anastacia replied with a peal of light laughter. "After all, I am supposed to stay hidden in this castle.”
Erkalla Odissea snorted. “Perhaps you can learn how to use a weapon. I hear the courtyard isn’t always being used.”
“I have magic. I have no need for such barbaric tools.”
“Barbaric tools? What if you’re separated from me? What then?”
Anastacia laughed. She knew that was never going to happen. They were thick as thieves. However, not many were comfortable with someone such as Erkalla becoming her friend let alone lady-in-waiting. Both were aware of that and they paid no heed. Thus, the two young women remained together even as they fled to the city of Xychosia.
Xychosia had served as Anastacia’s new home for the last three years. Although her heart ached at the thought of her home, she found herself at least in company with one person who made the place feel like home. She glanced at the pendant hanging around her neck, tracing the intricate golden owl carving. In its claws, it held what people called the Sofienian royal jewel. If not for Erkalla and the pendant, I would be lost, she thought.
“Believe me, I would rather not. I would rather leave all the fighting to you.”
Erkalla’s ice blue eyes sparkled with mischief. “One day, you’re going to have to fight without me. Maybe I should drop you into a Sabercrocodile pit and see if your magic can save you.”
A gasp. “You wouldn’t!”
There was a pause. “Maybe. If I’m in the mood to get a good laugh.”
Anastacia playfully slapped Erkalla’s pale shoulder. “You are cruel!”
Erkalla snickered while storing away the brush. “I’m kidding. You know I wouldn’t throw you into a Sabercrocodile pit.”
Laughing, Anastacia turned to the golden mirror mounted on her white marble dresser. She smiled at her neatly brushed hair, letting her fingers run through them. So smooth, she thought.
She donned her pearl earrings and her diamond tiara. Anastacia’s pink lips curved up into a diplomatic smile. The excitement caused her stomach to jump. Every fiber in her body constantly twitched. Her lavender, manicured nails erratically drummed against the marble. Today was the day.
“You look amazing, Anastacia,” Erkalla beamed. “Made sure not a single strand of hair was out of place.”
“Yes, definitely. But I would have been okay with a tendril or two.”
“I would never!”
“It would have looked a little less stiff.”
“That would depend on how you carry yourself, milady.”
Anastacia sighed and turned to the petite woman with a frown. “Erkalla, what did I say about the formalities?”
“For me not to use them, mum.”
“Most especially when?”
"In private, mum.”
Anastacia noticed how Erkalla slightly flinched from her chiding. She gave her a soft smile and took Erkalla’s hands. The petite woman slightly jumped but she caressed her hands.
“It is okay. No one is going punish you,” Anastacia reassured. “I for one feel no need for such.”
Erkalla nodded. “Your generosity is well-received, mu—”
Anastacia grinned. “See? That was not so difficult.”
“I suppose not. My apologies, I’ve gotten so used to the formalities.”
“Worry not. It is only much needed in those grand parties.”
“Speaking of those grand parties, are you ready?”
Anastacia’s pale pink lips pursed. She thought she would be. Yet, her hands became clammy and they trembled. The rush of her blood flow and pounding heart suddenly filled her ears. Something acidic began to climb up her throat and her hands slowly began to move up. However, a pale pair of hands grabbed hers. She snapped out of her daze and saw Erkalla staring at her with ice blue eyes.
“We’re here in Xychosia, Ana.”
Anastacia nodded albeit stiffly but the bile continued to rise to her throat. The lavender walls of her room seemed to melt around her and the soft Chamomile smell turned pungent. Erkalla’s voice slowly faded into a distant echo as she gripped Anastacia’s hands harder.
“Xychosia, Ana. Safe,” she repeated. “We’re safe here.”
Safe, she thought. That was a word she once associated with Sofiene. Sofiene was her home. It was her haven where no one could hurt her. At least, that was how it was three years ago.
Suddenly, she heard a knock on the door. Anastacia jumped but Erkalla tightened her grip on her hands. Her heart slowed down and she sighed. Her lady-in-waiting then let go of her hands before making her way to the door. She opened the door before curtsied.
“Your Grace,” Erkalla greeted.
Anastacia saw her: Queen Regina Psyche, the current ruler of Xychosia. She carried her slender form with grace with her short black hair perfectly cut right above her shoulders. Her smile was a perfect one. It was the one she had constantly employed for diplomacy.
She nodded at Erkalla in acknowledgment before gliding across the purple carpet. Anastacia curtsied in response to the queen.
“Princess,” Queen Regina began.
“My queen,” Anastacia replied in kind.
Anastacia forced a lump that formed in her throat. Did Queen Regina see her become nervous? How unsightly, she thought. She wrung her fingers together to hide her clammy hands. Her head remained bowed until she felt a hand gently drop on her shoulder.
“Anything I can do to soothe the nerves?” Queen Regina asked.
How did she know? Anastacia gave her a bitter smile. “I... How...?”
“Call it a godmother’s intuition, dear.”
Anastacia bit her lower lip and hung her head. What could she tell her? Could she cancel the party? Could she not just hide? One part of her wanted to just live in peace. But another part of her could not stand counting how many thistle-colored square patches there were on her wine-colored carpet.
“I am afraid I do not know how,” Anastacia sighed.
Queen Regina gave her a soft smile. She then turned towards Erkalla. “A moment for us, Erkalla, please.”
Erkalla nodded and left the room.
Once her lady-in-waiting left the room, Anastacia sighed. Queen Regina nodded and gestured to the bed.
The princess nodded.
Queen Regina sat down on her bed. She then patted the lavender quilt, gesturing for Anastacia to sit next to her. The princess weakly nodded and dropped right next to her.
“For three years, you’ve stayed here in Xychosia,” Queen Regina began.
“And for three years, you have improved drastically. Especially, in magic.”
Anastacia smiled before conjuring a small ball of light in her hand. Although tiny, she remembered how much effort she had put in to conjure without a chant. She remembered how Councilwomen Kara and Joy had put her through rigorous training. It didn’t matter to them that she was Queen Regina’s goddaughter. They treated her like any other student. They gave the same exams and flunked her if her spell either exploded or did not do what it was supposed to do.
“Thank you, it is very kind of you to say so.” Anastacia nodded. “But” —her expression fell— “am I truly ready?”
Queen Regina hummed for a moment. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. But” —she put her arm around Anastacia— “That is a question only you can answer.”
She nodded slowly. Anastacia sucked the air sharply and then glanced at the pendant on her neck. If she was the only one who had the answer, why did it feel so hard to answer? It was a simple yes or no. Yet, she still had no answer.
She stood up from the bed and walked over to her window. As she stared at her window, she could hear the faint sound of a jovial orchestra. A small smile curved up her lips when she saw the castle staff adorning the courtyard with Lavenders and Stargazers. The sweet smell of roast pork suddenly assailed her nose, causing her to moan in hunger.
Anastacia turned around to see Queen Regina smiling.
“It would be a shame to waste all their efforts.” Anastacia nodded and beamed. “I shall be ready shortly.”