After my coming of age, the months flew by like the wind. Life as an adult, despite my worst fears, was as boring as the life I had led before. I was of age now, yet my mother had yet to agree on a suitor. The neighboring Kingdoms had been under our rule for centuries, trade and other relations as symbiotic and balanced as politically possible. Our newest frontier were the connections to the controlling governments of the twin planets Irium and Nesta.
What I had thought to be an impossible feat when I was born turned to reality before my coming of age. All due to the focus of our Queen and her sheer virtuosity for diplomacy. My mother was a wonder—something I hoped to become. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to one day be her. Becoming a wife, therefore, was not a status I desired.
She visited the ground very often, meeting with other royalty and leaders of faraway lands, leaving me up high in the castle. The royal grounds sat upon the precipice of an ancient mountain, carved away in the middle until only a sliver of mountain connected it to the ground. Rather precarious in appearance, the reality made for airtight defense. The only way to reach the precipice was by one of five gondola lines, all of which arrived at a secured entrance. It was safe. It was impenetrable. It was isolating.
I had never been to the ground before, only heard of it in stories, or imagined it from the images in my books. I knew it rained—warm water falling from the clouds. Up here, the air was colder. It snowed nearly every day, even while the sun shone brightly. The only world I knew was this one. The shimmering, white hills, frozen lakes, and snow-capped evergreens.
Locked away in my gilded castle, my views of what laid beneath were shrouded in clouds. I longed to explore my Queendom, to see the world as it truly was rather than how I had imagined.
I peered through the window of my classroom at the clouds wafting by, the snow falling quietly onto the castle’s spires.
I turned to the lecturer, finding the annoyance in his expression.
“Need not I remind you that your education is as important as your link’s.”
“Reigniel,” I corrected him. “His name is Reigniel.”
“You know his name?”
This lecturer was new. I only kept them for so long before I had to send them away. Either they gave into my distractions too easily, or they simply bored me. “Yes. We can speak to one another.”
His mouth drops open in surprise. “You . . . You can communicate with words?”
“He can hear you?”
“Only when I want him to.”
“When you . . . When you want?” He scoffed and muttered to himself in astonishment. It was always this way when someone found out about our skills. I learned my lesson early on to not share the true depths of our connection lest it settled in short order within my mother’s ear.
At thirteen, I mentioned the visible aura in passing during a lesson. I spent the next months under the study of philosophers and scholars—all of them attempting to gain the information to use for their own means. Reign and I feared what would become of these studies, so we decided them to keep our meditations to ourselves. The door and level four, however, were at this point common knowledge.
“We control how open our connection is. We can’t close it off completely, but we can suppress it to a level one connection,” I explained to him for my own amusement. I gained joy from seeing other’s impress. What was so normal to us was such a surprise to others. “It’s like opening and closing a door.”
“And is this ‘door’ closed right now?”
Reign’s focus was trained elsewhere. Frustration, a bit of anger tucked away from my vision. “Yes. His choice not to bother me.”
The proctor shook his head and crossed his arms against his chest, completely forgetting about the lesson at hand. “I have never heard of such a bond. In all my days.”
That was what they always said.
When my lesson was over, I left for the solitude of my rooms. With my focus less averted and Reigniel’s frustration still growing, the door had opened a crack more. There, my unrest began to make sense.
Reigniel is a swordsman—and a talented one. Through his training, I have honed my own skills, learned that the blade is an extension of ourselves. Much like a link is to our soul, the blade and the hand should always be one. My muscles of my arms and legs flexed unwillingly each time he made the connection in his mind. I picked up my own sword to make waste of the unwanted energy.
His aggression always built during his training. When he failed, anger replaced disappointment quickly and often put me in a bad mood.
Slicing through the layers of cloth on my makeshift target, the severed pieces fluttered through the air like confetti in the wake of my swings. They fell to the ground around me while I try to catch my breath. I wiped the sweat from my brow at appraised the damage.
That will suffice.
My mother’s Queendom was not uncontested. She would not let the heir sacrifice her life before a male was born, however, she did not have much luck in keeping me from battle. Born under the constellation Orion, we were both adventurous, aggressive, and at times, improperly self-righteous. I would escape and make my place in the real world one day. I was not one to be sat on the sidelines, regardless of my mother’s best efforts.
The feeling of disappointment grew stronger. Reign, his own worst critic, was dismayed with today’s performance. The door swung wide open and he was with me in full effect. He flopped onto his back on his bed in the same position I was, and brooded in contempt. You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, I told him.
Says the Queen of self-loathing.
The Princess of self-loathing.
We both laughed.
A pounding sounded from my door, startling me.
Yes. I got up to answer the call, finding my guard, Iridios, standing. He had watched over me since I was just a baby. His age showed in the creases around his eyes and mouth.
“The Queen has requested your presence,” he said.
“What for?” I asked in defiance.
“Some guests have arrived from beyond the ocean.” He leaned forward to whisper, “She wants you to meet them. A gesture of goodwill, I believe.”
Mother knew I had been upset with her for denying me proper battle training. Perhaps these new guests were a renege on that denial. “Fine.”
I scurried followed him toward the main chambers, but to my surprise, led me toward the main hall. We never entertained unfamiliar guests in the main hall. That area was reserved for comrade and friends, those familiar enough to bypass the cordialities and formalities a Queen so required.
As we walked along the golden, velvet rug laid between the tall, arcing columns of the loggia, I looked through the windows to find the snow falling in large clumps. The sound of my mother’s laughter draws my gaze beyond the curve of columns, curious as to the last time I heard her do such a thing.
“Daughter,” she greeted me once our eyes met. “Come meet our newest advisors.”
I walked over, clamping my hands in front of my gowns to display confidence I did not feel. I looked between the five men, all clad in the gold-flinted charcoal armor of the Queendom. These are not foreigners. Or, they were foreigners no longer.
“This is my good friend, Tal,” she said with a touch to his arm. They were familiar, it seemed. “These are his best men, Armes, Vito, Stewart,” she gestured to two tall men behind them, “and Friedrich.”
My eyes transfixed on the last man. The youngest of the group, he stepped forward toward me with bold confidence.
His skin was much paler than the olive of mine and devoid of the flatter of freckles. His amber hair was cut into stripes on one side of his head, only to feather in delicate waves on the other side. He was an odd mix of hard and soft, one I could not figure out in the first few moments I saw him. All I knew was that I didn’t want to stop looking at him.
“Your Majesty,” he said with a bow.