The halls of the castle were always so dim. With the curtains barely opened at times, and the torches only in certain parts where the sunlight didn’t reach, one would think he lived in an elaborate cave. However, this was not the case today. There were guests expected to arrive this day. All of the curtains had been pulled back. The sun illuminated the emerald fabric. Everything was bright.
The ten year-old prince Antalos walked into the throne room. His father and mother sat on their thrones. The royal family visiting from Parthor stood before them. A tall brutish knight stood next to the visiting king. He had a menacing look about him. A single, ghastly, long scar ran down the left side of his face—an old wound from a battle, perhaps. It sent frightened chills up Antalos’ spine as he came before his parents. He hoped the knight would not notice his fear.
“Hello, my darling,” his mother Queen Wilisca said with a sweet smile. Her hazel eyes sparkled with happiness.
“Emrys said you wanted to tell me something.”
His father King Kannal stood with a nod. “Yes, we do, Son. As you know [name] has come with his sister, Lady Catherine, and her children to discuss a future alliance between Parthor and Anecia. Do you understand what this means?”
Antalos nodded. He knew that it was very important for both of their kingdoms to form some sort of treaty, yet he wondered what any of it had to do with him. He was still very young and did not fully understand the methods in which his father led Anecia as its king.
Kannal continued, “Antalos, we want you to meet Marian, Lady Catherine’s daughter.”
A young girl—about nine or ten years-old—dressed in a crimson-red dress, timidly stepped out from behind her mother. Her blonde hair hung over her shoulders in long soft curls, almost glittering in the light like golden coins. She had greenish-blue eyes that were very noticeable along with her fair skin.
“We want you to spend some time with her, show her around the castle while she is here. Soon you shall be betrothed to her once the details are all settled.”
Betrothed. That word sounded vaguely familiar.
“Once you come of age, you will be wed to Marian and you will be given rule over Parthor when her uncle steps down as king.”
“But…I do not even know her,” Antalos replied, sounding harsher than he meant.
“Antalos,” his mother said in a soft warning tone, resting a hand on her husband’s.
“It is already decided,” Kannal said firmly.
“You shall come to know her, Antalos,” Wilisca added. “She will visit each year so you may both keep in touch and get to know each other.”
Antalos didn’t say anything, but nodded. He was not sure about this decision, but he didn’t see any other way but to honor it. It didn’t really seem like he had another option anyway. “May I go outside?”
Kannal and Wilisca shared a glance with each other and nodded. “Of course, dear,” his mother answered. “We shall be finishing our discussion about the alliance. Do not forget to go to your lessons with Sir Frederic.”
The air was nice and cool as Antalos stepped outside of the castle, lost in his own thoughts. His mother had always told him that love was very important, yet how could he be expected to marry someone he knew he did not love? Sure, he had only just met her, but it still didn’t feel right. Perhaps he didn’t understand it yet. After all, he was only ten, and ten year-olds could only understand so much. It could be possible to come to love Marian over time, right? How did she feel about all of this? Was she just as hesitant as he was?
He turned to see his best friend Egrin running up to him, his curly chestnut hair bouncing with each step. He tried to hold back a laugh once he saw how dirty his friend was. “You look like a mess!”
Egrin looked down at his clothes and grinned. “Sir Frederic had me cleaning the stables.”
“Aren’t those supposed to be your new clothes?”
Egrin shrugged. “Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.”
“All right, so they are. Just don’t tell Cook! She already gave me a lecture about needing to make these last longer.”
“Just jump in some water and lay out in the sun to dry off,” Antalos suggested. “Cook won’t know the difference.”
“That’s a good idea. Have you seen the royals from Parthor yet?” Egrin asked as they walked through the large garden. It spanned from the surrounding wall and just outside of the forest behind the castle where hunts often took place.
Antalos nodded. “I saw them.”
“What are they like?”
“Well, I didn’t talk to any of them, but they seemed nice.”
Egrin stopped and stared at Antalos.
“Something wrong with you,” his friend said. “What is it?”
“How do you know something’s wrong?”
“I saw Bronn get that look when he accidentally let Sir Droyn’s horse get lose. Come on! Tell me what happened.”
“I’m supposed to marry [name’s] niece when I get older. It’s for the alliance between here and Parthor.”
Egrin blinked in surprised silence. “Wow.”
Antalos crossed his arms in front of him. “Uh-huh.”
“There is no getting out of that.”
“Now I’m supposed to show her around and try to get to know her better.”
“I don’t know what else to say except…” he trailed off when a water droplet splashed on his nose. He looked up and saw the dark clouds rolling in quickly. “Looks like a bad storm.”
Antalos looked around and noticed they had walked to the far reaches of the garden, far away from any shelter from the rain. “Do you think we can make it back to the castle before the rain catches up with us?”
“Maybe. But if not, I won’t have to worry about Cook lecturing me about my dirty clothes.”
He smiled. “I’ll race you then!”
The rain fell in a huge downpour as Antalos and Egrin sped across the grounds back to the castle. Servants ran into whatever doorways were open to them so they could hurry before the wall of rain arrived to soak them. They ran past the bend in the river, which flowed underneath the garden walls and through the grounds.
Antalos stopped suddenly. He squinted through the rain to see a strange form at the edge of the riverbank. “Egrin!” he cried.
Egrin jogged back to Antalos, his wet hair hanging over his eyes. “What is it?”
He pointed to the figure. “I think I see something over there.”
Egrin looked over to where Antalos was pointing before noticing the form slumped upon the ground. “What is that? An animal? It’s hard to see in this rain.”
“We need to help it!”
They hurried to the form to see it was not really an animal, but a young girl. She lay completely still as the rain poured down on her. Long dark strands of wet hair stuck to her pale face. She was still half in the water. Scratch marks made by her dirtied fingers began to disappear from the mud with each falling raindrop.
Antalos and Egrin quickly pulled her out onto the grass, but she did not wake up. “I’ll go tell Emrys,” Egrin said before he ran to the castle, leaving Antalos alone with the girl.
He sat next to her, trying to see if he recognized her from somewhere. She didn’t look like one of the servants’ children.
The little girl shivered and her hair fell back revealing her ears. But they weren’t normal ears. They were both pointed like an elf’s ears! Why would an elven girl be here? The elves’ kingdom was so far away.
His older brother Eoin ran toward him. “What are you doing out here? You could get sick.”
He motioned to the girl. “Egrin and I found her in the river.”
“Where is Egrin?” Eoin asked.
“He went to get Emrys.”
“Here.” Eoin scooped the little elven girl in his arms. “I’ll carry her inside. Come one.”
They rushed into the castle and through the halls in the direction of Emrys’ chambers—not caring that they were dripping a trail of rainwater behind them. Egrin was already there, trying to explain the situation.
“Ah, so this is what you were trying to tell me,” the old man remarked. He quickly went to the small room on the side where a single bed sat and instructed Eoin to put the little girl there. This was where he often put ill people who came in for his help. Emrys was quiet as he sat on a stool and observed the girl, checking for any injuries. He gently held her arm and ‘tsked’ at the deep wound.
After he quickly bandaged her arm, he rose from his seat and walked out into the larger room where the boys waited. Eoin had since then left.
“How is she?” Antalos asked.
“She will be just fine,” Emrys answered as he grabbed his cloak and started to leave.
“Where are you going?”
“To the leïfaes’ village. The girl has family there, I am certain. It’s the only other place she could have come from.”
“Good luck,” Egrin said.
The old man smiled. “Thank you, my boy.”
Antalos decided to stay behind as Egrin and Emrys left. He hurried to the window in the other room to watch Emrys mount his horse and ride out of the castle courtyard and to the village where he knew the girl’s family would be. They were probably full of worry wondering where their daughter was in this storm.
Then, he heard a light voice. “Where am I?