Next morning only a few people were present during morning exercise. Most of the guards and companions had a hangover. The baker boys were barely standing on their feet, Doran and the miner were tired as well. I arrived in the courtyard together with my sister, who sat at the same place as yesterday.
‘I see that the dance evening had some impact,’ the Prince looked around with a laugh, ‘Aleron, I’ll start today with you.’
‘Yes, your majesty,’ I said and entered the circular area.
‘Please take two short swords,’ the Prince said, the guards gasped, I took my sister’s swords from the shelf without a word, the Prince did the same.
‘We always assume that our opponent has one longsword, but in life, it’s not like this,’ the Prince said, ‘today Aleron and I will try something different.’
Our uncle taught us to use each other’s swords, but my sister was much better with these swords.
‘Let’s start,’ the Prince said, ‘I expect everyone to exercise with short swords tomorrow. If you did that today, you would just die,’ he laughed.
Both of us were just as unskilled with the short swords, I forgot to use my left hand, the Prince was disconcerted by having to use his left hand. He left his left shoulder more unprotected than Alana, which gave me the advantage over the Prince. I got his sword out of his right hand and beat him.
‘You were good, Aleron,’ the Prince said and nodded towards Alana with his head while she applauded the contest.
Most of the morning, only the two of us were competing against each other, Doran tried to beat the miner. After the exercise I got changed for breakfast, Alana was waiting for me, when someone knocked on our door. Alana opened the door and took a single flower with a note attached.
‘Who sent it?’ I asked, coming out of the lobby.
‘It says,’ my sister read the note on the stem, ‘I hope it tells you everything,’ she smiled.
‘It is beautiful, isn’t it?’ she asked and put the flower in water.
‘The rest will go to ruin,’ I indicated the baskets in the lobby, but Alana didn’t pay attention to me.
At breakfast everyone was curious about the Prince’s plans for today and ate without talking.
‘Please eat your breakfast,’ the Prince said, ‘afterwards we will ride to a meadow to spend the time there until lunch.’
‘Excuse me, your majesty,’ my sister said, ‘but this morning I cannot join you.’
‘Thank you for telling me, Alana,’ the Prince said.
I was sure that unlike me, the Prince knew the reason.
‘Why are you not joining us?’ Baron asked.
‘I promised Tila and Doran that I would teach Dorana while we are here, and they accepted,’ my sister said, ‘we will have our first lesson today.’
‘It is very kind of you,’ the Queen said.
‘It’s the least I can do,’ my sister smiled.
‘I’m not joining you either,’ the Princess said, ‘Aleron and I have different plans.’
I almost choked on my food, I was not aware of this plan either.
‘I’ll wait for everyone else in the stable and the servants will walk all of you there,’ the Prince said.
After breakfast Alana waved to me and walked with the little girl towards the library holding her hand.
I waited for the Princess, but I had no idea about her plans.
‘Aleron,’ the Princess came from behind a door which had the same colour as the wall, ‘come, let’s take a short walk.’
We walked towards the brown tower, she carried her cat.
‘Do you what is the story behind Peg Leg?’ she asked, ‘that is the name of my cat.’
‘No, I don’t, your majesty,’ I said.
‘When I realized that I could see people’s fates, I did some experiments. I had predicted a dog for myself, so I called a cat dealer. I saw how my future changed and that I would have a beautiful cat with long red fur. The cat dealer arrived, and I chose Peg Leg as a kitten. I waited to see what would happen.’
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘My brother received the dog, which I had predicted,’ she laughed, ‘he is gone now, but we loved him very much.’
‘So, it didn’t matter what you had done, the dog came to you,’ I said.
‘In this case, yes,’ she said, ‘but after that, I chose a servant whom I had not predicted. I never met the girl who theoretically was supposed to be my servant.’
‘So, we are able to change our destiny if we change something huge.’
I wanted to change my future as I didn’t want to be a traitor.
‘Yes, as your parents did,’ she said, ‘I have a feeling that I need to show you the tree of fate.’
We arrived at the brown tower which was the same height as the castle. Next to the entrance two royal guards stood with huge halberds, the Princess showed them her wristlet, and we entered the tower.
We walked into an echoing lobby where everything was covered with wood. The hall was bright as the sun shone between the wooden slats. A wooden spiral staircase went upwards along the inner wall of the tower, down here only a couple of chairs stood around a wooden silver statue depicting the tree of fate. The statue was the size of my chest and stood on a wooden pedestal.
‘This silver statue is very nice,’ I said with a smile.
‘This is not a statue,’ the Princess said, ‘this is the tree of fate.’
‘So small?’ I asked surprised, ‘I thought the tree was more prominent.’
‘Come closer and take a look,’ she smiled.
I went closer to the tree and it looked the same as Shirela had described. The branches branched off its short and wide trunk, but every branch was related to other branches, there was no free part at the end of any branch. The tree didn’t have any leaves, and some branches were glass coloured. Every branch kept moving slowly.
‘This is a birth,’ the Princess indicated a bud at the end of the branch, ‘and this is a death,’ she indicated a dry piece of branch which had just fallen inside the pedestal.
‘Are these the diseased branches?’ I indicated a glass coloured branch.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘and this is your branch,’ she indicated one branch, ‘the disease has started to spread from this and even though you are here, it hasn’t stopped.’
‘So, you can predict the future with the support of the tree,’ I said, the Princess nodded.
‘We can feel the birth or the death of a fortune teller as the tree tells us even if we are not there. The tree not only shows people’s past or future but helps to sense things as well.’
‘Can I touch it?’ I asked with curiosity.
‘Feel free to do so,’ she smiled, ‘I touched it many times, but nothing happened. You will have the same feeling as with an ordinary tree.’
I stretched my hand very gently to reach my branch, but I felt nothing special, I was touching an ordinary branch.
‘Aleron,’ the Princess fell to the ground, ‘stop doing that.’
‘Yes, your majesty,’ I helped her up, she sat down on a chair.
‘What happened, your majesty?’ I asked.
‘When you touched the tree, I saw millions of memories in one second,’ she said, ‘I wasn’t prepared for that.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘I will not touch it again.’
‘On the contrary,’ she said, ‘I think the tree wants to show us something.’
The Princess sat comfortably and closed her eyes.
‘Touch it again and hold your hand on the branches until I tell you not to,’ the Princess gave me an order.
‘Yes, your majesty,’ I said.
I touched the tree again very gently and touched my branch. The Princess sat with closed eyes, she seemed to be sleeping.
‘The tree of fate is not sick,’ she said after a while with a smile and opened her eyes.
‘What do you mean, your majesty?’ I asked curiously.
‘The tree decided not to show your destinies,’ she said, ‘after your birth, each of you received a drop from the sap of the tree of fate. The tree offered you the drops, and the branches keep changing into a glass colour to hide your destiny. As you are related to more and more people here if the tree did not hide them, your future could be predicted from theirs.’
‘Why did we have to drink the drops?’ I asked, ‘what is the problem with showing me?’
‘You would be in danger,’ a man’s voice came from behind me.
The tall, thin man was of my parent’s age and his light skin showed that he is rarely left the tower. He had a brown cloak and clogs.
‘Councillor Totun,’ the Princess stood up, both of them bowed, so I did the same.
‘Have you seen the visions?’ the Princess asked, the man shook his head.
‘The tree wanted to tell it only to you,’ he said.
‘Why would I be in danger?’ I asked.
‘Many years ago, some fortune tellers left the council and the country because they wanted to rule the Kingdom instead of supporting the royal family. With their help, your mother was attacked a few times before your birth, and we tried to hide you. The tree showed the drops to one of the fortune tellers which he collected and gave to your mother.’
‘Why was I not aware of any of this?’ the Princess asked, ‘I’m the personal fortune teller of the royal family and I’m part of the royal family.’
‘Your rank doesn’t matter here, Velina,’ the man said, ‘only the boy and his sister have the right to know about this. I had to wait for their arrival.’
‘Why did these fortune tellers want to kill my mother?’ I asked, ‘because I was supposed to be a traitor?’
‘At your parents’ wedding the tree indicated something to one of our fortune tellers, which no one else had seen. The tree gave the drops to your parents because this fortune teller betrayed the tree, and the tree could keep you safe only by providing the drops. We assume that your fate is connected to the royal family and without you they could succeed in ruling the Kingdom. You will not be a traitor,’ he said, ‘you will be friends with Prince Veron.’
‘How do you know that?’ the Princess asked.
‘It was in Veron’s future when he was a child, you were not even born yet,’ the man said, ‘your friendship is deeply rooted, it will not change.’
‘Maybe you will protect him from an attack,’ the Princess said.
‘It is something similar to the story about your servant, your majesty,’ I said, ‘someone wanted to change their fate very much.’
‘Something like that,’ the man said.
‘Why am I called a traitor?’ I asked.
‘I cannot tell you this,’ the man said, ‘I was not present at this event, I have just heard about it.’
‘Is anyone alive, who was present at that time?’ I asked.
‘Yes, his majesty, King Darion and your father,’ Councillor Totun said.
‘His majesty, the King?’ I asked surprised.
‘Yes, your father was his majesty’s first personal guard until the moment of the prophecy, as afterwards he had to leave the city together with your mother,’ the man said.
‘Did you know that?’ I asked the Princess.
‘No,’ she shook her head, ‘but at least it explains why you are such a good swordsman,’ she left Alana out of the sentence intentionally.
‘Is there anything else?’ I asked, thinking about what I had just heard.
‘Nothing now,’ the man said, ‘but you will return anyway,’ he smiled.
‘I thought I was not visible,’ I said.
‘I can feel this too, although I cannot see anything,’ the Princess said.
We walked through the park back to the castle, the Prince and the rest of the guests had just arrived.
‘Please don’t tell anyone, your majesty, especially not Alana,’ I asked.
‘I promised you and I’ll keep that promise,’ she smiled, ‘there is not much to tell, I don’t even understand at all.’
‘You are not alone with that,’ I said.
‘Velina, Aleron,’ the price noticed us, ‘it’s a pity that you didn’t join us, the weather was beautiful, but we will make up for it after lunch.’
‘What do you mean?’ the Princess asked.
‘Every one of my guests deserves the same level of entertainment,’ the Prince explained, ‘so after lunch, we will ride out, only the four of us.’
‘I’m going as well,’ Baron said immediately.
‘No need, Baron, thank you,’ the Prince said, ‘please entertain the guests who are staying here as neither Velina nor I will be here.’
‘Are you taking any guard with you?’ the Prince’s other friend, Foren, asked.
‘Aleron will be enough,’ The Prince answered and walked into the castle, probably towards the library.
‘Princess Velina,’ Foren stepped up to us, ‘please take at least one guard with you.’
‘Aleron will be enough,’ The Princess answered, the men bowed.
The Princess stayed with the rest and I went to the library to meet with my sister. I had just opened the door, the Prince waved to me from behind one of the columns indicating that I should stay quiet and listen. I stepped up behind the other column. Five children sat in the library and they sang some rhymes. I showed five fingers to the Prince, he just nodded with a smile.
‘We have finished for today,’ my sister said after the song.
‘Thank you, miss Alana,’ the children said in unison and ran out of the door passing us without noticing.
‘Aleron,’ I heard Alana’s voice, ‘I know that you are here, you were quiet as a mouse,’ she laughed ironically.
The Prince signalled to me to reveal myself but asked me not to say a word about him.
‘What did the five children do?’ I asked my sister.
‘Maina asked me whether other children whose parents were working in the castle could join Dorana and I said yes,’ she chuckled, ‘From today on I’ll be teaching here every day.’
‘Prince Veron will not be happy that you are not joining him,’ I said.
‘He already knows,’ she said, ‘I told him yesterday that I’d like to teach. Initially, he knows about only Dorana, but I assume that he will not mind if others join her.’
‘Maybe I’ll join in one day as well,’ the Prince came out from behind one of the columns with a smile.
‘Then the children would become timid, your majesty,’ my sister smiled and bowed.
The Prince kissed my sister on the hand instead of an air kiss, as her suitor he could do that.
‘Would you ride out with me this afternoon?’ the Prince asked my sister nicely.
I took a step backwards, but I could even have left as they hadn’t noticed me at all.
‘Every one of your guests deserves the same attention,’ my sister smiled, ‘Aleron should join us as well.’
‘It will be only the four of us, together with Velina, if it’s acceptable to you,’ the Prince said.
‘That will be perfect, your majesty, thank you,’ my sister smiled.
‘What did you teach today?’ the Prince asked with interest when someone knocked on the door.
I turned to the door, Maina had just opened it.
‘It’s lunchtime now,’ my sister smiled.
Prince Veron offered his arm to my sister, she accepted it. They walked arm in arm along the corridor, announcing their courtship to everyone. I dropped behind them, everyone stared at them. My sister was used to being stared at by people, here at least no one mocked her. As they walked, sometimes they smiled at each other, not caring about the looks people gave them.
At the entrance to the dining room, the Prince kissed my sister on the hand and went behind an invisible door. The royal family arrived at lunch unusually late and they didn’t say a word to anyone. The Queen and her son were clearly not on speaking terms. Alana looked at me silently, I smiled at her cheerfully.
No one said a word at all. When the Prince saw that everyone had finished, he stood up with his family and walked out.
‘Maybe it was not such a good idea to accept his offer of courtship,’ my sister said on our way back to the apartment.
‘It was a good idea,’ I said, ‘You both like each other and only that matters.’
In our lobby, a new orange dress waited for my sister, which looked the same but instead of a long skirt it had breeches at the bottom. This dress was more comfortable to ride in, but if you were walking it looked like a skirt. My sister put some fragrance oil on her neck, I just smiled at her efforts.
Prince Velina came to us and walked us to the stable. Servants saddled our horses and two horses from the royal stable. One of the horses was black and beautiful and the Prince saddled him on his own, the servants were not even around.
‘Alana,’ the Prince smiled happily when he spotted my sister, ‘can we go?’
‘Yes, your majesty,’ my sister said.
We rode out. As the Princess was not a great rider, the Prince in a backpack carried her cat. We didn’t ride long, we quickly arrived in a meadow next to a forest. One side of the meadow the forest started, on the other side a nice brook flowed. The Prince stopped, so did we.
‘This is very nice place,’ my sister said.
We put down three blankets next to each other, I took the baskets and flasks from the horses, the Prince took off his belt with his weapons. From this morning he carried two short swords next to his long sword, as I did. Away from home I always kept our weapons on my belt, my father taught me to remember this.
We sat down comfortably on the blankets, the Prince sat in front of my sister, next to Princess Velina.
‘Your mother is not pleased that you are courting me,’ Alana said hesitantly.
‘She doesn’t mind,’ the Princess said, ‘she was not happy about the way Veron introduced the courtship.’
‘She has not told me for a long time whom I can court,’ the Prince said.
‘My brother is a real rebel,’ the Princess laughed, ‘both of us are.’
The Princess told the story of her cat and her servant to my sister.
’Once I had broken my leg just before my birthday dance night,’ the Prince said, ‘Velina told me not to ride outside as it was rainy and I would get hurt, so I rode out.’
‘He was not present at his birthday night,’ the Princess laughed, ‘our mother was distraught; our father just laughed about it.’
Whilst telling the story the Prince started to play with my sister’s fingers and gently caressed her hand.
‘We are going for a walk,’ the Prince said, ‘You can do whatever you like.’
The two of them walked towards the forest holding hands, their silhouette stopped under a tree and Prince Veron kissed my sister.
‘Was what you said really your mother’s problem?’ I asked with curiosity.
‘Yes,’ the Princess said, ‘I was surprised as well because Veron has courted working class girls before and when that happened, she was very angry. Now she has said that Veron should have announced the courtship during dinner similarly as Baron did, because it would have shown more respect to others. Veron treated this as an immediate attack on his relationship and they quarrelled. Our mother tried to convince him that she was not against the courtship, but my brother tends to overreact to things sometimes,’ she chuckled.
‘How long has your father been away?’ I asked.
‘More than a year now,’ she said, ‘Last year he said that he needed to leave and went somewhere with an unknown man.’
‘Our father left us with our uncle last year,’ I said, ‘the unidentified man was tall and strong like me with dark blond hair and blue eyes?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ the Princess said, ‘something like that. Maybe they are together somewhere. As he is my father’s guard, it would make sense.’
‘Veron planned this afternoon in detail,’ the Princess looked at the forest, ‘he hoped that he could kiss your sister.’
‘He didn’t do that in the library simply because he was disturbed,’ I said, ‘They didn’t even notice me.’
‘Did the flower make Alana happy?’ she asked.
‘Yes, very much,’ I said, ‘she got many baskets from Baron, but she only watered the Prince’s one. It is time for her to be kissed rather than mocked.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘she was the only blond girl with blue eyes in the south and she was called pale face many times. At the end she already started to believe that something was wrong with her. When she started to teach children, people got to like her, but she never belonged there.’
‘It couldn’t be easy,’ the Princess said, ‘Did the same happen with you?’
‘No, I was never as beautiful and as conspicuous as her,’ I laughed, ‘It was easier for me.’
‘Did you leave anyone behind in the south?’ she asked curiously.
‘No, your majesty,’ I said, ‘There was a woman with whom I spent the night sometimes, but nothing more.’
The Princess attempted to kiss me, but I pulled away, surprised.
‘Excuse me, your majesty,’ I said, ‘I didn’t expect this,’ she laughed.
‘Don’t worry, Aleron,’ she smiled, ‘I haven’t fallen in love with you, but you are a handsome man.’
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ I was surprised.
‘You could visit me tonight in my apartment,’ the Princess said straight away.
‘Aleron,’ she smiled, ‘as I said it is not a huge thing here to visit someone and you are not the first one whom I ever invited.’
‘I see, your majesty,’ I said.
I ate silently, she watched me with a smile.
‘I said something unusual to you, didn’t I?’ she asked with interest.
‘Yes, your majesty,’ I said, ‘In the south a night together requires love.’
‘In here, it requires discretion,’ she laughed, ‘you said that you have not been in love in the south.’
‘No, your majesty,’ I said, ‘Giana’s tavern provided this kind of service.’
‘I see,’ the Princess said, ‘I’m sorry Aleron, just forget it. I thought only of a night without obligations and I’m not used to it being unusual for someone. As a Princess, I need to be careful whom I invite, and I feel that I could trust you,’ she smiled, ‘I understand your decision, Aleron.’
‘Thank you for your understanding, your majesty,’ I said.
We changed the subject to talk about her limping cat, I hoped that I hadn’t hurt her.
‘I hope that your brother will not invite my sister into his apartment,’ I said, ‘Alana is even less used to this than I am.’
‘Veron is in love,’ she said, ‘and that is different. I’m never going to be in love.’
‘How do you know that?’ I asked.
‘I predicted it,’ she said seriously, ‘I will never have a husband and probably I became a rebel because of that. I chose men to court me whom I had never predicted, and I hoped that I could change my fate and I would have a permanent partner, but it never happened,’ she said, ‘now I cannot see anything. I changed my path many times, but a husband never appeared in my future. It was like with Veron’s dog. The dog joined our family anyway, but whatever I do, I’ll never have a husband.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
‘Not everyone’s fate is perfect,’ she said, ‘and we see all of them. As a child I predicted what I would get as a gift and if someone courted me, I knew why and when our courtship would finish. I can predict the death of a newborn and everyone’s death. I’m not sure whether this skill is a blessing or a curse.’
‘So, you are happy that many people’s future has been hidden,’ I said.
‘No. I would have enjoyed it as a child to be surprised at least once, but now my family needs my help,’ she said, ‘Veron would like to know his future related to your sister very much or when our father is coming back, but I cannot help him. I’d like to help you to find out everything about your prophecy, but my hands are tied.’
‘Just like for those who left your council,’ I said, she nodded.
‘That is the only advantage,’ she smiled, ‘I’m sorry Aleron, I didn’t want to be a burden to you.’
‘You were not a burden, your majesty,’ I said, ‘it is a huge responsibility and I never thought about it. I was always just kept complaining that I couldn’t know something.’
‘You were lucky,’ she smiled, ‘If I could see Veron’s future now, he would question me about even which tree is more intimate,’ she laughed.
‘I think, he has solved it,’ I looked at them with a smile, their silhouette didn’t move, they stood by a tree and embraced each other.’
‘Sometimes I say nothing about the future,’ the Princess said, ‘because it might not be good.’
‘Alana’s and my hidden future is a relief to you then,’ I laughed.
‘Yes,’ she smiled, ‘I don’t have any responsibility about what to tell you as I cannot see anything.’
I bowed to the Princess and kissed her. So far, I had only kissed Gaina, but it was different. Gaina was wild, the Princess kissed gently. I could imagine a night with her.
‘I don’t want to settle down ever, so love is out of the question,’ I whispered, ‘I’m not going to be your suitor.’
‘It’s a deal then, because I don’t want that either,’ the Princess smiled.
My sister and the Prince were away quiet a long, we already had packed everything when they arrived holding hands.
‘Just in time, Veron,’ the Princess said, ‘it is dinner time soon.’
‘I didn’t pay any attention to the time,’ the Prince said and smiled at my sister.
We rode back to the castle and went back to our apartment to get changed.
‘How was it?’ I asked Alana.
‘Veron kissed me,’ she smiled, ‘more than once.’
‘I thought so,’ I said, ‘just Veron?’ I teased her.
‘He asked me not to use the title of Prince apart from at official events,’ Alana said, ‘after dinner, we’re going for a walk, don’t wait for me.’
‘I would need a potion,’ I said.
‘I hope that you don’t do anything silly,’ she sighed, ‘Do I need to know who she is?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘nothing serious.’
‘From now on it will be on your table every day,’ she said, ‘If you don’t need it, just throw it away. In this way, you won’t have to ask anymore. At least I’m using my herbs,’ she laughed.
‘Maybe you could ask around who needs any herbs,’ I suggested, ‘not everyone can afford it here either.’
‘You are right,’ she smiled, ‘I will ask around.’
Before dinner, the Prince came to us and walked my sister to the dining room. The atmosphere between the Prince and his mother was amicable again.
‘What did you do in this afternoon?’ the Prince asked his friends.
‘We practised with two short swords,’ Baron said, ‘we would like to beat you tomorrow.’
‘Good luck,’ the Prince smiled.
During dinner, I received a piece of paper telling me where to go and the time when I should go. When I arrived back in my room, the potion was already waiting for me, but Alana had gone. They had gone for a walk straight after dinner.
I prepared myself and drank the potion.
Based on the paper instructions, I walked along the servants’ passage, which was behind the doors which were the same colour as the walls. The passage was narrow, and it had no decoration. The torches and candlesticks together with a mirror provided ample light. The servants’ passages looked like a labyrinth, passages opened from each other in different directions. I followed the instructions and opened the described door.
When I entered, the Princess had just lit a candle in a green silk robe. The candles already provided an intimate atmosphere. The Princess’s apartment didn’t have a lobby, only a bathroom and a bedroom with a fireplace in it.
‘Good evening, your majesty,’ I whispered while I closed the door.
‘You don’t have to whisper, Aleron,’ she smiled, ‘no noise can be heard outside.’
The Princess let her light red hair down and it fell to her shoulders. She was surrounded by a nice scent which triggered my desire.
‘You look great, your majesty,’ I said.
‘Forget the title of majesty here,’ she said and stepped up to me.
‘I don’t want to have an embarrassing evening,’ she embraced me, ‘let’s continue from the afternoon.’
After we had kissed each other, our instinct drove us, and the night was not embarrassing. The Princess was a great lover, she was completely different from Gaina. Velina cared herself more than Gaina, these could be the local customs which my sister had mentioned a few days ago. Gaina behaved in an artificial way, the Princess was natural. I hoped that she was right about the noise because we were not whispering.
‘Thank you for inviting me over,’ I said when we lay next to each other.
‘You’re welcome,’ she smiled.
‘We can repeat this from time to time,’ I suggested.
‘Aleron,’ she became serious, ‘please tell me that you haven’t fallen in love with me.’
‘I haven’t, Velina,’ I caressed her, ‘but as I said I don’t want to settle down and for you to find a discreet partner is difficult. I thought that this could work for both of us.’
‘As you are such a good lover, I don’t mind,’ she smiled, ‘that woman taught you well.’
‘I’m glad to hear that,’ I kissed her.
I went back to my apartment at dawn, Alana slept, and her bedroom door was open as always when she was home alone. Half-awake she was going to reach for her swords on the floor, but I started to whistle, and she fell back to sleep. Her habits hadn’t changed despite having four guards on the corridor.