Chapter Eighteen- LIVIA
Scholar Eli introduces many books to me over the next few days. I find it interesting how the healing gift is able to sustain the lives of kings and queens, extending their rule. This has meant they’ve been able to have many more children, who’ve also inherited the Guardian’s gift.
When I ask Scholar Eli about it, he says there were over a hundred descendants who had the gift at one time. Status determined the strength of their gift. The oldest could heal an entire village in one day, while the youngest could only mend minor cuts and bruises.
However, I search in vain to uncover anything on the golden mirror. No mention of strange dreams or the visitation of a separate world can be found in anything I read.
These last two nights I’ve stood again in front of the golden mirror, seeing but unable to communicate with my sister. I try to read her lips when she speaks, but it is near to impossible to piece it all together. It is beyond frustrating. Especially since I know the Silent Watchers are marching this way. Does she know about me? Does she know she is about to kill her own people?
“It will be curious to see if any of the lost plants and beasts will return now that the balance of magic has awoken,” Scholar Eli proclaims.
I look over and see a colorful painting of a Shicat, a magical creature that resembles a small cream-colored house cat with long pointy ears, tipped black. Small black spots cover a Shicat’s legs and paws, making it easier to distinguish between these beautiful creatures. And with the simple sound of their purr, they can put you into a deep slumber.
“Oh, I hope so.”
Eli turns the page to show a ferocious Berwhol. The creature is the size of two giant bears put together, with a long, golden horn upon its head.
“Or perhaps, maybe not all of them need to come back,” I quickly add.
“We can only hope they don’t all come back, princess. We are lucky only the Keppers survived by staying in the mountains. But the plant life would be more than welcomed. I know your mother would have loved it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Queen Kyra loved plant life. She was always freshening the castle with all sorts of beautiful flowers. Your father even had a garden made for her very own.”
I remember when Uncle Grif told me of the garden she’d had in the North. A gentle smile graces my lips.
“Scholar Eli, can I ask you something?”
The light from above illuminates his tired, worn face. “But, of course.”
“Have you ever come across anything about a golden mirror?”
His expression turns suspicious. He snaps the book in front of him closed, giving me his undivided attention.
“How do you know about this golden mirror?”
“I overheard someone mention it, and it sounded interesting,” I lie.
I know he can see straight through me, but his experience dances on his lips, and he proceeds to share his knowledge.
“The golden mirror is an ancient piece of magic. It was used many, many years ago; it was a magical object given to the first king. It is said that a king could communicate through it, that time did not exist when he used it. The golden mirror was stolen after Queen Bellflower’s disappearance. A war almost broke out because of the theft, as the alliances between the kingdoms were already fragile with the magic gone, but the rulers decided it wasn’t worth destroying the kingdoms over it. No one ever found it, and no one has seen it since.”
“How does one communicate through it?”
“I am unsure, princess. There isn’t much information about the lost mirror. The mirror is now regarded as a myth, something that never existed.”
I slump back in my chair. I need to know how to talk to Vera.
I spend the rest of the morning reading until my eyes are crossed and won’t function any longer. The moment Scholar Eli begins nodding off, I quietly leave.
I find Reddik standing outside the library, exactly where I leave him every day, and we leave the Temple. The streets are full of people gathering supplies for the days to come. The Regent sent word out earlier this week for the people of Pynth to prepare for war. When I asked him about it, he said the Silent Watchers have broken through the northern wall. But when he told me of the casualties and the involvement of my sister, that left me feeling devastated. If I don’t talk to her soon, it will be harder than ever to let her return.
“You know, princess, the Temple isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. You have plenty of time to discover and learn about this lost magic. Surely there are other things you want to do?”
Reddik has taken it upon himself to promise to escort me to the Temple whenever I want to go. Amah has been more than happy not to return since our first visit. Whatever happened those many years ago continues to leave a bitter taste in her mouth.
“The more I know about what I can do, the better for our people,” I reply. “That is where I need to focus. I must help any way I can.”
“Spoken like a true queen.” He dips his head, and his mouth curves up in a smile.
I have been grateful for Reddik’s companionship, and I find that I enjoy his company more than I probably should. I wish I had someone I could share these thoughts with. Like a sister. I breathe in deep.
“You all right, princess?”
“Just thinking about Vera.”
Reddik’s jaw tightens. “I understand.”
They way he responds unnerves me. It’s as if he finds it to be Vera’s fault that King Kgar’s army of assassins is coming this way.
“Do you?” I say defensively. “I don’t see anyone else caring about her.”
The sharpness of my words catches him off guard, and his face softens.
“I know you--”
A shout of warning cuts him off.
We both glance ahead, just as an arrow whizzes past Reddik’s head. Two burly men wearing bright clothing are standing in our path. One stands ready with his sword, while the other nocks another arrow.
The crowd around us disperses into chaos, erupting into screams. Reddik pulls his horse in front of Rosie as the second arrow is released.
His horse rears up, releasing a painful cry. Reddik is thrown, and his stallion gallops off past the men. I quickly dismount, going to Reddik’s side, but he’s up before I reach him and brandishing his sword.
“Run back to the Temple, princess.” I shake my head, but he responds sternly. “Now! Go!”
I run back to Rosie with my heart pounding. I’m not fond of the idea of leaving Reddik behind. A clashing of swords causes me to turn back. Instead of witnessing a sword fight, I see the archer sprinting towards me. I hurry and grab Rosie’s saddle to hoist myself up, but I’m not fast enough and I’m yanked roughly back.
I grab hold of his arm to pry him off of me. The moment my fingers touch his flesh, a prickling sensation rumbles deep inside my chest. Unknowingly, I release an unfamiliar gift, like a bolt of lightning escaping a storm. The burly man seizes, collapsing to the ground. I look aghast at my hands--confused and somewhat frightened. What did I just do?
The chiming of bells sounds off in the distance. I stare at the dead man at my feet. The size of him reminds me of the assassin in the Black Pines. The numbness of shock settles over me, and I can’t move. These two men are Silent Watchers.
My head whips up. A bright light reflects off Reddik’s opponent’s bald head. Sweat trickles down the bald head, landing in his overly bushy eyebrows. His eyes shift from Reddik to me. I always thought they wore masks; but these men do not.
Recognition flashes across his face. But is quickly extinguished when he must block Reddik’s advance. With deadly speed, he arcs his blade out. Time slows as I watch blood spray out from Reddik’s side. I hear someone scream, but realize it’s the sound of my own cry.
Hooves thunder ahead of us. The standing assassin glances behind him and then back to me. He steps over a fallen Reddik and then towards me. But his steps freeze when he sees the dead assassin at my feet. He curses under his breath. “Damn it. Just like your sister.”
“Do you know her?” I ask desperately.
His scowl deepens before dashing past me to flee the scene. The Violet Guard rein in, frantically surveying my surroundings. I yell at the one in the lead, and point behind me. “Hurry, he went that way. Bring him back alive!”
They ride on after him, and I rush to Reddik’s side where he lies in a pool of his own blood. Kneeling down I ignore the wetness already seeping through my dress. I thrust my hand through the slit in his leather armor, trying to ignore the tears streaming down my face and place my hand on his wound.
I close my eyes.
Immediately, I notice his pulse is thready and weakening. I choke back my fear, as I feel the seriousness of his injury. My gift swiftly steadies his heartbeat and maintains his blood pressure as I focus on his fatal wound. I promptly bring everything together, mending him back, until there is only a fine line from my finished work noticeable. I send one last final current, smoothing out his skin.
When I open my eyes, I see Reddik sitting up. He pats his side, trying to feel the gash he knows was just there. But he finds it mended. He turns to face me, and is mere inches from me. I feel his breath on my face. My heart flickers as our eyes lock. His eyes shift down to my lips, and then back up. I wonder what it would be like to feel his lips on mine.
An awareness seeps into Reddik’s face. “The bells!”
Hurriedly, he pushes himself up, and brings me up with him.
Confused, I ask, “What does it mean?”
“We have two bells. One’s for a prison break, the other’s for castle breech.”
“Which one is this?”
Realization crosses over my face. Reddik mounts quickly onto Rosie, pulling me up behind him. He takes note of the dead assassin, but he doesn’t say anything. As I hold him tight around his waist, he sends Rosie flying through the streets, giving those in the way only moments to move. I can only hope he doesn’t ask me what I’ve done.
When we reach the stables, Oliver is there to fill us in. “They were wearing our soldiers’ uniforms. No one thought anything of it when they passed on through.”
“Who did they target, Oliver?”
“Regent Grif,” he regretfully informs us.
I take off running, with Reddik fast on my heels. Servants jump out of the way as we run through the castle. When we reach the Regent’s chambers, Amah is pacing outside his doors. She rushes over when she sees us.
“Oh, En Oli! I’m glad you’re okay.” She takes in my disheveled appearance, and the blood covering my dress. “What in Maker’s name happened to the two of you?”
“We were attacked,” Reddik explains, “by two Silent Watchers on our way back from the Temple.”
“And the assassins? What happened to them?” she asks.
Reddik gives me a sidelong glance. “One is dead, the other is being chased down by our guards.”
“Good,” Amah answers with a curt nod.
“Is the Regent all right?” I finally ask.
“He’ll be fine. But there’s a poisoned arrow lodged in his shoulder. The healers are working on him now.”
We all turn when we hear yelling coming from inside.
“What do you mean you can’t do anything more? What is the point of having you, if you can’t do your job!” This comes from Lady Ella.
A softer voice responds. “He will be fine, Lady Ella. The poison will work itself out with time.”
“Well, thank goodness! The princess is lucky my husband didn’t rat her out. I would have blabbed out anything to save my own life.”
Reddik and Amah look to me, and my cheeks warm. Amah steps past me and enters the Regent’s chambers.
“Well, then it’s a good thing you were not the one being questioned,” Amah snaps.
Lady Ella gasps, before placing a nasty scowl on her face. “Who are you to speak to me that way?” I step out from behind Amah, and my aunt’s eyes widen. “Princess Livia!” Her expression softens. “I only meant that I could never be that brave.”
Amah scoffs. “No, you didn’t. I know exactly what you meant, and you will be well advised to keep in mind who Livia actually is to you.”
Lady Ella’s nostrils flare. “I will not be treated so rudely!”
The Regent groans from his bed, but before Amah can unleash her fury, my aunt rushes to my uncle’s side, and takes his hand. “It’s okay, my love. The healers say you only need to rest.”
Amah pulls me forward. “Go and heal him.” Her hand shoos me forward and I go to my uncle without making eye contact with my aunt, now that I’m under the impression she’d like me dead.
I place my hand on my uncle’s shoulder, and am surprised by how hot he feels. I close my eyes, and am alarmed when I see black flecks within the red hue around his shoulder. I reach out and graze the injury with my mind, and a sharp pain shoots through me. Backing off, I can taste the bitterness of the toxin. I push out again, concentrating my gift to go through the toxic barrier. I ignore the pain it causes me, and successfully break through. I sweep away the poison, and smooth the red to a calming golden hue.
Uncle Grif squeezes my hand, and I open my eyes. “Amazing,” he says.
Lady Ella looks from one to the other of us, her brow furrowing in confusion.
“Without even looking, I know I’m healed,” Uncle Grif says. “Livia, your gift is incredible.”
I smile and sneak a glance to Reddik. He steps forward and reports to the Regent the events we encountered.
“I’m glad you both are all right. I’ll be very much interested in meeting this assassin,” the Regent says.
“The assassin is King Kgar’s uncle.”
“Bellek?” Amah huffs out.
Regent Grif frowns. “Are you sure, Reddik?”
“I would never forget the face of the commanding officer of those most feared assassins.”
“Why would he be here now, and not with his army?”
Silence fills the room until a knock comes at the door. A messenger enters and waits to be heard.
“Speak,” Regent Grif gruffs.
“The assassin in the city has been captured, sire. He is being taken to the dungeon as we speak.”
Regent Grif waves his hand dismissively, and the lad leaves. Amah watches him, and I see the wheels turning in her head. “If I may excuse myself, there are some things I must attend to.” My uncle nods, and Amah gives me a half-smile before leaving me behind.
“Reddik, I think it’s time we have Princess Livia go to one of our trainers. It would be in her best interest to be able to defend herself. Today was too close a call, and with war on our doorstep--well, I think it would be helpful.”
“Good. Now if you both don’t mind, I need to have a word with my wife.”
Lady Ella’s mouth twists into a forced smile. Not wanting to be anywhere near this conversation, I am the first to turn to leave.
When the doors open to the training room, my mouth curves up in a pleasant grin.
The vast space is hollowed out of mountainous rock. My head goes every which way, trying to soak it all in. Guards are scattered everywhere, practicing their skills, and a faint hint of sweat is in the air.
One whole side of the room juts out to resemble a mountain, allowing soldiers to practice scaling a wall. I can barely make out the guard at the top. The danger is daunting, and I know it takes a lot of nerve to attempt something so dangerous.
“Well, it seems your trainer is busy at the moment,” Reddik says as he peers up at the same guard.
“Is that him?”
“His name is Cam, and he’s a force to be reckoned with. I warn you, he’ll not go easy on you.”
I continue watching Cam as he swings himself from one ledge to the next. My breath catches when one of his hands slips and he’s left dangling by the tips of the fingers of one hand. He regains his position, and resumes making his way down.
I blow air out from my lungs, and Reddik laughs.
“Don’t worry, he won’t be having you do anything crazy. Just learning to handle a blade.”
He guides me over to a rack holding an array of weapons. I spot a quiver full of arrows, and run my fingers along one’s fletching.
“Do you shoot?” He asks.
“Since I was seven. It saddens me that I left my bow behind in Kale. I miss the feel of the release.”
“You want to take this one for a go?”
“I would love to!”
I snatch up the quiver of arrows and the bow leaning next to it. Hooking the strap over my shoulder, I follow Reddik to the targets nearby.
I align my body with a target, and nock my first arrow. I release it, and it hits dead center. Reddik lifts a brow, clearly impressed. I set the next, and release arrow after arrow, letting my muscles and body take over.
The tension in my body begins to release. I let my mind get lost in the precision of my skill, allowing all my arrows to hit their mark. I am happy here in this moment.
Releasing my last arrow, someone starts clapping behind me. I turn and see the mountain climbing man--Cam. He is a tall guard with dark hair and enormous shoulders. He looks like the sort of man you would threaten someone with.
“Princess Livia, this is Cam.”
Cam bows his head. “Your Royal Highness. That is quite the shot you have there. You could give our finest archers a lesson.”
I smile at his compliment. “Thank you. I regret to say, though, that I’m not as skilled with a blade.”
“Oh, I’ll get you there with a blade before you know it. Actually, you might not want to see a blade ever again when I’m through with you, but you’ll know how to wield it.”
“Don’t be scaring her, Cam. She’s already had an eventful day.”
“No, it’s okay, Reddik. I need to learn it, and I can take whatever Cam dishes out to me.” Cam looks impressed as he glances at Reddik. I love how my confidence is beginning to grow. Maybe I can be who they need me to be after all.
Cam works me hard for the next hour, having me practice with a wooden stick. He goes over my footwork until my muscles are on fire. Towards the end I feel I’ve grasped the concept, and gift him a smile when he says I look promising.
Reddik tries hard not to laugh as he escorts me back to my chambers.
“You look like you are going to die,” he says.
“Well, you would, too, if your muscles were never worked that way before!”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I promise tomorrow will be easier.”
Reddik laughs. “You’re smart, princess. But just so you know, Cam knows what he’s doing. Trust him, and he’ll get you to where you need to be.”
We arrive to my chambers. “I hope so.”
The last thing I see before closing my door is Reddik’s quirky grin. And there isn’t a doubt in my mind how much he means to me.