Chapter Ten- LIVIA
A troop of the Violet Guard is gathered around the back of two large wagons, each bearing a willow emblem. Reddik jumps off his horse but before he can help me, I’m already dismounting. My boots hit the ground and I run towards the center of the men, pushing them aside.
Stepping past the last man, I see Amah, who has somehow survived, kneeling next to Oliver. He’s lying motionless in a pool of his own blood.
Reddik brushes past me and kneels at his brother’s side. Amah and I exchange looks; with relief also comes worry. Oliver doesn’t look good. He’s lost so much blood.
I go to his other side, take the hand that’s covering his wound, and move it gently to his side. The gash is deep.
I close my eyes, and silence falls. The pulse of my own heartbeat echoes in my ears, but the boy’s pulse is barely thumping. I can feel cold creeping over his body.
I push my gift over him. Along with his deep wound, his wrist is also broken. I bring the torn pieces of his belly back together first, mending up to the surface of his skin, and smoothing out the jagged edges. The organs are next. Each graze and cut disappears, and lost blood replenishes.
I turn my attention to his wrist. Without even thinking of how to piece together the shattered bone, my gift whirls around it, putting everything back in place.
A warmth spreads over me and I open my eyes. Sharp pain greets me, shooting across my head. I try to push it away as Oliver attempts to sit up.
“Whoa. Easy.” Reddik puts his hand behind Oliver’s back and helps guide him up. He shakes his head in disbelief.
When I look around, the guards are gawking at me. The magic that has been gone for a century is back. Each and every guard bends his knee and bows his head.
I sneak a glance to Amah. Her face glows with pride. Unable to hold back the pain any longer, I double over and grab my head.
“Livia?” I hear the concern in Amah’s voice.
“My head. The pain. It hurts.”
I turn away and begin dry heaving, the nausea coming on strong. Why does my body feel as if it has been stomped on? Amah comes to my side. She takes my arm and helps me up. I keep my eyes shut tight.
“Make way! Let’s get her in the wagon. You! Fetch some water.”
Someone takes my other arm. “Can’t she heal herself?” It’s Reddik.
“I don’t know.” Amah replies. “There’s so much we don’t know about her gift.”
Unable to see or move, I rely on Amah and Reddik’s help with every step. They hoist me into the back of the wagon. A cup is brought to my lips. “En Oli, drink this.”
The water is cold and refreshing. But it only gives my stomach something to reject. Tears fall down my face. “Amah, what’s wrong with me?”
A soft blanket covers me and the touch of Amah’s hand is cool against my forehead. “Shh. Relax. Try to guide your gift inside yourself.”
The floor beneath me wobbles, and I hear the sound of creaking wheels starting into motion. I try to focus, but nothing happens. I place my hands on my head and try again.
Silence consumes me. The blackness that usually fills the background is now illuminated in gold. Reaching towards it, my body gets warmer. The closer I get, the warmer I become. Soon the warmth is too much but I can’t step back. I hold my breath as a furnace overpowers me. The pain is numbing. When I force air out from my lungs, the hotness dissipates and a violet mist shrouds me, soaking into my skin.
I open my eyes, and the pain is gone. Darkness surrounds me as I wait for my eyes to adjust. The few minutes I thought it had taken to heal myself must’ve been hours.
I crawl to the edge of the wagon to the open flap. Small fires litter the darkness, illuminating guards standing watch. Their voices are kept low and I can’t make out their conversations.
Amah and Reddik stand a distance away. Amah’s arms are crossed, and Reddik shakes his head before walking away. I sigh. The people of Pynth are not ready for Amah’s stubbornness.
I crawl under the blankets and snuggle against their warming comfort. Soon enough, sleep finds me.
I’m jarred out of sleep. Blinking against the morning light, I realize we’re on the move. I stretch out my arms and yawn. The pain and soreness from yesterday are gone.
I push my warm blanket away. The air is cold. Moving carefully, I reach for my cloak. When it’s snug around my body, I push back a flap of canvas.
The Violet Guard ride close behind. They bow their heads to me. Butterflies sweep through me as I duck back inside. Once again the weight of expectation sinks back onto my shoulders.
The wagon stops and I stumble. Amah sticks her head inside.
“How do you feel?”
“Hmmph. So you were able to heal yourself after all?”
“It’s hard to explain, but yes. Where are we?”
“We are two days from Pynth. If you come out and ride a bit, I can fill you in.” My stomach growls in response. “And your belly.”
I walk around the wagon and see Rosie. My heart leaps, and I rush to her, stroking her nose. She gently bumps me and I nuzzle against her.
Amah waits until I mount before handing me dried meat. As I eat the first strip, our company starts moving. Reddik is up front, leading.
“How did the Violet Guard get here so fast?”
“Oh, they aren’t here for us.” Amah replies. “They are here for Reddik and his brother. They came to bring them home. Tomorrow our guard should arrive. Which is fine. More protection for you.”
The rest of the day is uneventful. I spend most of my time either riding Rosie, or inside the wagon. Reddik checks on us from time to time, but keeps his distance for the most part.
When evening comes, Amah keeps me inside. She tells me it isn’t proper to sit amongst the guard. Something seems off and it seems like she doesn’t want me talking to anyone.
The next morning I’m once again riding alongside Amah--alone.
“I find it strange that no one talks to me. Are they afraid of me?”
“Don’t be silly. They probably want to give you some space.”
“Space? I’ve had that my whole life! I would think Regent Grif’s right-hand man would be more welcoming. Especially since I healed his brother, who also isn’t talking to me. It’s just strange.”
Amah shifts uncomfortably. I know she’s said something to them. I’m only waiting for her to confess. But she doesn’t. And I’m not surprised.
On all those visits to Kale, no one spoke to me either--besides Annie. It was in those moments I used to pretend I had the Southern Kingdom’s power of invisibility. I sigh. I no longer want to be invisible.
The snow-covered surfaces fade out the closer we get to Pynth; winter is moving slower than our company, but soon it will catch up.
More of the Violet Guard arrive halfway through the day. It looks as if I will be having my own welcoming procession into Pynth. Inattentively, I watch Reddik up ahead issuing orders, and wonder how he became the Regent’s right-hand man at such a young age.
Will he be assigned to me when I become queen?
He turns and catches me staring. He smiles and waves. Ignoring the rushing warmth to my face, I wave back. By the blessing of Maker Adon, he is handsome.
He leaves the front and trots towards us.
“Your Royal Highness, Pynth is just over the horizon. Would you care to join me in front to have your first view of your beautiful city?”
Without looking to Amah for permission, I reply, “I would love to.”
“Livia, I’m not..”
Her lips purse before gently nodding for me to go on ahead.
I follow Reddik to the front of our procession. We pass by Oliver, and he and I wave to one another. It’s good to see him well.
“I want to thank you for healing him. It shames me to know I haven’t said it before now.” Reddik confesses.
“Oh! I am just glad we made it to him in time.”
Reddik’s mouth curves up. “Well, we both owe you a great debt. If there’s anything you need, just ask.”
“Will the celebrations still be going on?” Amah asks from behind us.
“We should be arriving on the last day of the festivities,” he replies. “It will be a gift to everyone, once they see who we are bringing through our gates. They’ll not be expecting it.”
“I can’t wait to see it all,” I exclaim.
“Well, wait no longer, princess. Behold the city of Pynth.”
We ride over a small rise, and a grand wall stretches out to the horizon. The tops of buildings barely poke above it, teasing at what may be inside. In the distance, I see something that I’ve waited my entire life to view--Willobourne Castle.
Even from here I can see the intricate spires stretching high into the sky. I’m awestruck, and nearly urge Rosie to a gallop to get closer.
“Welcome home, Your Highness.”
We proceed toward the main gate, across a field of grass. The scenery is magical and everything I imagined it would be. Harvested fields cover an area west of the fortified walls. The people working them are small dots to us.
“Is it everything you thought it would be?” Amah asks.
“Oh, Amah, it’s all that and more. I can’t believe I’m finally here.” I bite my bottom lip. “What if they don’t like me?”
Reddik laughs. “Princess, they’ve been waiting a long time for this moment. They’ll adore you.”
His comment catches me off guard but the look in his eyes seems honest, and I try to hide my admiration.
The city gate is massive, held together with great iron bands and nails. The hinges moan under its weight as it opens outward. I look up as we pass by, and the guards in the towers peer down. They are as curious of me as I am of them.
As we enter, the road widens into a large courtyard. Reddik leads us through it to a main road where shops with big windows and painted shutters line both sides, along with a street full of people gathered to see me.
The moment I appear, a thunderous cheer ripples through the air. They move to the sides of the road to let us pass by, but keep close enough to satisfy their curiosity. Their cheers fill my ears, and I can’t help but smile when they call my name.
I admire the colorful clothes they wear--even the men. Like their clothes, their energy is full and bright. They wave excitedly, with unrestrained joy. Do I really mean this much to them?
The buildings behind them are grand; even the inns look elegant. There are so many different kinds of wares in the storefronts, from fine clothing made by seamstresses to items of steel from guild masters. The air tastes heavenly, and I see merchants standing out with trays of fresh baked goods. The smells beckons me in, and remind me how hungry I am.
White petals fall from the sky, distracting me from my want of food. Women with small children standing on balconies are releasing white petals from woven baskets. They swirl around gracefully, and the children down below try to catch them, collecting them in their pockets.
The joyous sound buzzing all around me is infectious and it gives me a confidence that I never knew I had. I look to Amah, but I find her gaze searching the crowd and being ever so watchful for any kind of threat. Even a city behind a well-guarded wall isn’t enough to keep her at ease. I find Reddik doing the same. I seem to be the only one enjoying this celebration.
We near a massive bridge made of white stone. At its opposite end, towering high up into the sky, is Willobourne Castle, a breathtaking sight. As we begin to cross over the bridge, we see men lighting lamps hung on poles, preparing for the oncoming darkness.
Birds squawk overhead and my eyes follow them as they fly over a large stretch of deep blue water. Below the bridge, soft waves cover the water’s surface, bumping into large boats that are coming back to shore. The sailors on deck see me and wave from their vessels. I wave back.
I gaze over the enormous silhouette of the white stone castle that’s built on a mountain island of its own. I see patches of trees on all levels, and windows are aglow, filled with a soft yellow light.
We go through a huge gate that comes out from a thick outer wall. The horses’ hooves echo inside the long, arched opening. My excitement turns to nervousness. Soon I will be meeting Regent Grif--my uncle.
We come to the stables to where I can finally dismount. Boys dressed in neat livery, with a white willow on their vests, take Rosie over to a small field within the grounds.
“Are you ready to meet your uncle, My Lady?” Reddik asks.
My stomach knots up and my hands become clammy.
“Yes, of course.”
Amah takes me by the arm, and we both follow Reddik across the courtyard and up the steps to the main doors. They open into a vast chamber with vaulted domed ceilings.
Standing in the center of the large empty room is a tall man with large muscles beneath a freshly pressed grey uniform. His white hair is tied back at the nape of his neck, and he looks intimidating with all the decorating pins and medals spread across his chest. Next to him is the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen, with the longest of red hair. She is dressed in a flowing blue gown. This has to be the Regent and his wife.
Reddik walks up to the Regent and converses quickly before he leaves the room. The Regent develops a scowl, but quickly smooths it away. He takes a step towards me, looking nervous himself.
“Welcome home, Princess Livia. I am Regent Grif, your uncle, and this is your aunt, Lady Ella.” He turns and presents his wife, who bows her head slightly, her lips barely curving up. I can’t tell if she is smiling or grimacing.
I swallow down my nerves. This formal meeting seems awkward, as my uncle and I both stare at one another, neither of us knowing what to do. Do I run over, and give him a hug?
Before I can give it much thought, he takes the remaining five steps between us and instinctively I rush to him and we embrace heartedly. So long I’ve wished for a family, and here it is before me.
He pulls back to get a closer look at me. I notice how much his features resemble my own, especially his straight narrow nose. His misty dark eyes mirror my emotions, and I brush away a tear that has escaped down my face.
“You look just like your mother,” he says.
A smile spreads across my face. “Do I? I’ve never seen an image of her. I always hoped I would.”
“Would you like to see one now?”
Not able to contain my excitement, I bounce up slightly. “Yes, please.”
Regent Grif escorts me up a grand staircase that has a thin grey carpet going up its center. Lady Ella politely dismisses herself, letting me know it was nice to meet me. Her words, however, don’t match her expression, leaving me feeling as if I’ve done something wrong.
“I’m glad you’re finally here,” my uncle says, interrupting my thoughts. “There’s much for you to discover and learn about your kingdom. I hope you find that I’ve done my best to rebuild it, and to retain the memories of your parents’ reign.”
“I’m sure you’ve done brilliantly, Regent Grif. Much more than I’ll ever do. My skills rest in nature, and I’m a bit overwhelmed by this whole new experience. I hope I’ll catch on quickly and do what’s needed of me.”
What I really mean is, please don’t leave me. I have no clue and I will fail. But I know I can’t speak these thoughts. One thing I’ve learned from Amah all these years, is when you speak your doubt, it creates a seed that can grow into failure. I have always been told to refrain from making a bed that I could not get up from.
We continue through long corridors, ascending stairs that spiral around to the next level, to his study. Regent Grif pushes it open, revealing a dark room. He enters in first, and brings to life lamps set all around.
The room is spacious, able to fit a very large oak desk in its center. A fireplace is against the far wall, with two light-colored sofas to either side. My heart begins to pound when I see a rather large painting hung above the mantel. A powerful looking man is standing in magnificent violet robes, and a beautiful woman is positioned in front of him, sitting with her hands placed neatly in her lap. Her smooth white skin glows, along with her gorgeous white hair. I know instantly who they are--my parents.
My lips part, admiring the art that perfectly depicts them as I’ve always imagined them to look.
“The shape of your eyes and mouth are identical to your mother’s. You even have the family nose.” The Regent comes up next to me and points to my father. “Of course, that black hair of yours is from your father’s bloodline.”
I can see myself in both of them. From the raven black hair of my fathers, to the delicate features of my mother. I can’t be any happier knowing how much alike we all look.
“I wish you had known them, En Oli.” Amah approaches me, and stands at my side. My eyes shift down, and became glazed with a glassy layer of tears. “Me, too.”
The Regent clears his throat. “Livia, I know you’ve only just arrived, but there are some things that were brought to my attention upon your arrival.”
Amah steps forward, and my uncle’s scowl returns.
“Yes, Amah. I’m aware of your secrets, and I would like to inform you of your ill judgment in keeping such things to yourself. I am surprised she hasn’t been told already.”
“She isn’t ready,” Amah says forcibly.
I look back and forth between the two. The tension in the air puzzles me.
“Are you really going to do this right now?” she says. “She’s only just arrived, let her enjoy it.”
“This is not my fault,” he responds gruffly. “You should’ve told her a long time ago. Now you give me no choice.”
Amah steps aside, defeated. She keeps her eyes downcast, avoiding my gaze. Worry gnaws at me. My uncle’s eyes shut for a moment, and he takes a deep breath. I can’t take the intensity anymore.
“Just tell me.”
He opens his eyes, and I see regret reflected on his creased forehead. “You know the story of your parents and the raid from the East?”
“What you don’t know is they came for the newborn heirs. Amah was lucky enough to save you. However, she was unable to save the other. One Silent Watcher got away, and was able to smuggle your sister to the Eastern Kingdom.”
“My sister? But I don’t have a sister.”
My eyes shift over to Amah, who refuses to look at me.
“Amah, what’s he talking about?”
She looks up, tears shimmering in her eyes.
“It’s true, En Oli. You have a sister, and she’s your twin. I’ve kept it from you, and I’m sorry.”
My stomach churns, and it feels like my heart just fell off the side of a cliff. Amah reaches out to me, but I recoil. “Don’t.”
I can’t even look at her. Feeling this way is foreign, and all I want to do is run. This whole time that I’ve been hidden safely away, I’ve had a sister living with the malicious Eastern King?
Just moments ago, I was full of excitement and in awe. Now I’m plunged into another kind of reality and I’m unsure how to swallow it. My uncle’s face is full of concern.
“I need a moment alone,” I confess. “If you could take me to my room, please.”
I refuse to break down in front of them. I need space and I need it now. My foundations have been shaken, and my world has turned over. I feel sick, and I don’t want anyone to witness my breakdown.