The Witching War (girlxgirl)

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Chapter 14: Beta Capricorni

Aida sits across from Juniper in her sister’s bed chambers. The welcome wasn’t exactly warm or familial. She doesn’t blame Juniper, though. None of this is her fault. Sure, she’s crushing on Aida’s best friend and even slept with her, but that’s not exactly equivalent to attempted murder. Aida knows she deserves much worse for the things she’s put her sister through. Doesn’t she? It wasn’t exactly Aida’s fault, either. She’s pictured this conversation a hundred times over since their duel. She’ll take responsibility and beg for forgiveness. She’ll beg on her hands and knees if she has to. But can a sister forgive such a betrayal?

“Listen, Juni... I know I’ve been quite possibly the worst sister in the history of ever these last few weeks... or years. Maybe I always have been, but I’m going to make up for it all, okay? And I also know that you don’t understand what happened between us or why I, um, nearly killed you and then disappeared with Mother for days, but I can explain. At least, I can explain the bits that I do understand. I don’t expect you to forgive me, I get it. Please, just listen to what I have to say first,” the words fly from Aida’s mouth so quickly her brain can hardly keep up. Juni looks conflicted, though, she listens without interruption and patiently waits for Aida to continue.

Aida runs through the facts, recounting everything that she can remember. She relays the most recent events as if she’s telling fairytales and fables to her baby sister the way they used to when they were young. But Juniper doesn’t want to hear facts or fairytales and she doesn’t want to pretend like there’s not something more happening here.

“Aida, stop. Malchidiel already told me everything you’re saying to me right now. I don’t need you to repeat everything back to me, that’s not explaining anything. But... I do want to know how you feel when it happens. Were you upset with me? I mean, was it your subconscious taking your anger out on me? I’m worried about you, Aids. Everyone is... and I want us to be able to work through this, but you have to be real with yourself before you can be real with anyone else.”

Aida is a bit taken aback by her sister’s response. She wonders when Juniper became so mature. Of course, Juni’s right. Aida hasn’t been real with herself because she’s afraid of what she might discover when she is. What if this horrible, strange person she’s become is who she really is? She keeps blaming it on this unknown entity controlling her, but what if there’s no cure?

“Okay, Junes, you’re right,” Aida breathes out, “I was angry with you...- am angry with you. I can’t say whether that’s the reason for the duel or not. All I know is that I wasn’t in control when I challenged you or when we were dueling. That’s not an excuse, though. There’s just so much going on in my head and I don’t know what’s real and what’s imaginary.”

Juniper says nothing, which worries Aida immensely. Instead, she walks over to her bed, pulls the covers back and crawls in, “Come on, then. We’ve acted like strangers long enough, let’s at least cuddle up if we’re going to have this kind of chat,” Juni says as she pats the space beside her in bed. Aida is hesitant to move, but soon she settles in and cozies up to her sister. Juni wraps her arms around Aida and kisses the top of her dark head, “You’re mad about Elsie,” she states matter-of-factly. Aida shifts positions so she can look into her sister’s face, “Why did you do it, Junes? I could tell before that there was feelings on your side, but I didn’t think you’d act on it... I thought you knew that Els and me- we had something.”

Juni laughs wryly, “Aida, you have to admit it’s pretty damned difficult to tell when you’re serious about someone. You have ‘something’ with more women at any given time than I’ve had in 18 years.” Ouch. That’s a bit harsh. “No, Juniper. There’s a difference between sleeping with a woman and having something real between you. You should have known that Elsie was off limits, June. There are just certain things you don’t do,” Aida snaps back. Juni props herself up on her elbows and stares incredulously at Aida, “Are you serious, right now? You’re right. There are differences, Aids. Except, you claim there’s something more between the two of you, yet you’re always sleeping with Zelina and pining over Samara and fooling around with every pretty girl that catches your eye. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with you! You’ve never even made any effort to be with Elsie, because if you had then you’d be together.”

Aida scooches away from Juniper and folds her arms over her chest, “I didn’t know you felt that way.” Juni sighs and covers her face with her hands, “Aida, I’m not trying to be hateful, I swear. I just don’t think you consider other people’s feelings. Everything has always been about you and how you feel and what you want, and that isn’t your fault, but it’s up to you to learn how to be considerate. If you paid any attention whatsoever to me, you’d know I have genuine, serious feelings for Elsie.”

The tension between the girls continues to build in their silence. Aida wipes tears from her eyes and watches the fat snowflakes falling outside the window, wishing she were somewhere lying in the cold under the purple winter skies. She hates to admit it, but her sister is right. There’s always been a double standard in the way their mother treated them, the way everyone treated them, and Aida never bothered to do anything about it because she benefitted from it.

“You’re right, Junes. I didn’t consider your feelings and I’ve been guilty of that in the past, as well. Duel and other issues aside, I should’ve spoken with you like an adult about your obvious feelings for Elsie when I realized it was bothering you instead of provoking you and staking my claim like she’s my property. It isn’t right. If Elsie wants something more from you, then you should be free to pursue that... just, you should know that it might get complicated,” Aida tries to find a middle ground; she won’t agree to hand Elsie over without a fight, but if she loses, she loses.

Aida leaves Juni’s room feeling even less confident in their relationship than when she went in. Her biggest concern was whether Juni could forgive her for the duel, but she never expected they’d spend more time arguing over Elsie than anything else. She isn’t even sure what her feelings for Elsie are, only that she can’t let her baby sister swoop in before she has the chance to figure it out. Maybe it’s childlike selfishness; the desire to have the toy your sister wants whether you were playing with it or not. Elsie isn’t a toy, obviously Aida knows that, but what she doesn’t know is whether her sudden feelings towards Elsie are real or simply a manifestation of sibling rivalry.

***

Meliora is abuzz with activity as last-minute preparations for this evening’s ceremony take place. Despite her promise to decide on a gown for tonight, Aida didn’t give the dresses a second look. Unsurprising, of course, to her staff, who are well versed in the flighty ways of the princess. Although she knows today is an important day for her and her queendom, Aida is struggling to focus. Something about the air feels heavier and more suffocating than usual. Is it the pressure of the evening and her future responsibilities? Or is it something else entirely setting her on edge?

The morning quickly turns to afternoon leaving little time before she’s meant to arrive in the main ballroom. Aida is thrilled to be done with the poking and prodding of her ladies as they try their best to make her the most presentable that she’s ever been to live up to the queen’s high standards for tonight. It isn’t a question of whether Aida will be beautiful, but whether her grooming will be up to par with the expectations of a future Queen. She needs to look delicate, desirable, not yet commanding and powerful like her mother. She needs to look like the crown princess of the most powerful queendom in the world without posing a threat to the other powerful guests in attendance.

“What do you think, Princess Zoraida? Will your mother be pleased?” Aida studies her maidens’ handiwork in the mirror. She hates the mirror these days. Her cheeks look rosier than usual, no doubt the work of makeup, and her lips a more vibrant red. Her dark curled lashes don’t call for much, her silver eyes always pop without the help of much else. It’s unsettling, their luminescence. The gown and cloak they decided on bear the Lux dynasty colors, silver, gold, and maroon, as customary for events like these. The silver and gold represent the official colors of Sidus, those colors paired with the maroon make up the Lux family crest. Her gown is a dark, almost bloody maroon, fitted in the waist, chest, and sleeves, but flowing below the waist to the floor. The sleeves meet at the neck and plunge down in a daring yet classy slit nearly to her navel. Draped over her shoulders is a white winter cloak with silver and gold embellishments and lined with the fur of this year’s winter game. Her body is adorned with jewels designed especially for her, earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets. What more could a princess ask for? Or rather, what more could her mother ask for.

“The queen will be pleased.”

“Miss Zoraida, it’s time for you to make your way to the ballroom. Your mother will begin her address any minute now,” one of her guards calls from the door.

This is it. Now everyone will know that I, Zoraida, the orphan from the woods, am next in line for the throne. There’s no more hiding; tonight is the night that everything changes.

After careful deliberation, Queen Sidera decided she would still allow members of the public to attend the ceremony as long as they are carefully vetted by her handpicked guards at the entrance. Aida can hear the murmurs of the crowd through the thick curtains as she stands waiting for her cue to enter the royal balcony overlooking the ballroom. Tonight, Juniper won’t be joining them on the balcony, a decision she made on her own. Aida can’t help but feel a sting of guilt knowing the reason Juni chose not to join them is the same reason their mother didn’t try and change her mind.

“Welcome, my people of Sidus and those visiting from our allied lands. This is an incredibly special night for all of us, especially me. For 14 years I have been a mother to my brilliant, enchanting, uninhibited daughter. For 14 years I have loved her, protected her, hidden her away from those I feared would try and hurt her. She is no longer just a girl, but a woman. Capable, strong, worthy. Many of you have wondered what the fate of the crown would be when my rule is over. I assure you, Sidus will be in excellent hands. Everyone, I introduce to you my eldest daughter, Zoraida Lux, Crown Princess of Sidus, next in line for the throne,” the queen finishes her speech as boisterous applause erupts throughout the ballroom.

Aida stands anxiously as two royal guards part the curtains leading onto the balcony. She draws in a deep breath and strides with feigned confidence to her spot at the center of the balcony beside her mother. With her head held high, she accepts her own crown, the crown her mother wore before her the night she was confirmed to be the next in line after her father. A mixture of oohs and aahs ripple through the crowd accompanied by wild applause. This night is more than just the crowning of a princess, it’s a symbol of hope that there is a future to look forward to even though the present is grim.

Aida scans the crowd with a smile as she watches friends, allies, and countrymen together in one place celebrating their future queen, celebrating her. Lingering in a far corner, however, stands a familiarly unfamiliar face. Her smile falters for a split second; surely she’s imagining things. Aida presses her eyes closed for a moment and opens them again, but there she is, the strange woman from the banquet.

There’s a face I never thought I’d see again. This time I’m getting answers.

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