Chapter 7: Beta Librae
Samara and Aida spring apart upon hearing their guests enter the room. Aida groggily studies the intruders until her eyes land on one very pissed off blonde. Aida cringes internally; she’s starting to question her life choices as of late. The disappointment on her mother’s face is nothing new, but it still hurts all the same. Samara clambers out of the bed with a violet blush painting her cheeks.
“Apologies, my Queen, Malchidiel; the Princess insisted, and I was worried she might be cold in the night. I must’ve dozed, I promise I’ll never be so unprofessional again,” she mutters apologetically. Thanks for selling me down the river, apprentice. Malchidiel looks to Aida for confirmation and she nods. “Very well, I appreciate your dedication to your duties, Samara. I’m going to check Zoraida's vitals, the rest of you feel free to catch up with her while I work,” the royal healer says. Celeste and Sidera join Aida’s side while Juniper and Elsie remain standing near the doorway.
Elsie shifts uncomfortably and looks up to meet Aida’s eyes, “Glad to see you’re alive. I’ll be leaving, now.” She leaves the room without another word. Juni looks between a retreating Elsie and her recovering sister and rushes after the blonde. Aida’s heart lurches as she watches two of the most important people in her life running the opposite direction.
“Zoraida, is something wrong? Is it your head? I’ll prepare something for the pain,” Malchidiel interrupts her self-pitying thoughts. Aida nods weakly, finally tearing her eyes from the door as Celeste closes it. Samara speaks lowly to Malchidiel then disappears with her own clothes to change; Aida assumes. Sidera strokes Aida’s dark hair worriedly, “Please, tell me you remember something else about last night, Zoraida. We’ve all been so worried about you.” Aida wracks her brain once more; she remembers serving dinner, nothing exciting about that, then there was the strange woman.
What was it she said again? She was looking for someone... star... Nova! Okay, Nova... Juni, I went to apologize to Juni. Why didn’t I make it there? Open window... wind... Nova. None of this makes sense! Why can’t I remember anything else? Why the hells was I outside?
“Zoraida, darling, answer me! Are you alright?” Sidera says, alarmed. Malchidiel is shining a light in Aida’s eyes, testing her responsiveness. She flinches at the intensity of the harsh light and panic in the room. “I’m fine, everyone, it’s nothing. I don’t remember anything else... only leaving for Juni’s room and then waking up here,” Aida attempts to explain. Malchidiel only nods, grimly, and pulls Sidera and Celeste outside the door to speak privately.
Aida lays her head back on the pillow, feeling quite sorry for herself. She can’t help but feel like everything is going terribly wrong. On top of her ever-confusing feelings for her best friend, for Zelina, for the broody apprentice, Aida can’t make sense of all the strange happenings in her life over the last few days. She knows something is off, but much to her frustration, every time she tries to get to the bottom of things her bloody head starts ticking like a bomb ready to explode.
The fact she isn’t alone slips Aida’s mind and she lets out an obnoxious groan under her breath. Samara clears her throat from across the room, startling Aida. She sits on the plush, cushioned seat of the bay window with her journal in her lap, now looking at Aida with both concern and irritation, “Is something bothering you, Zoraida? Medically speaking, of course, otherwise I’m not interested.” At least she’s consistently uninterested; I do appreciate consistency. Not feeling up to her usual banter, Aida rolls on her side facing away from the apprentice in silence.
The morning bliss of being held in Samara’s arms has certainly passed. Aida knew it didn’t mean anything, of course. Samara was only looking unconsciously for a warm body in the brutal winter morning, she doesn’t blame her. Aida hardly has time to be upset over something so trivial as Samara treating her the same way she always has, cold indifference.
After several minutes of deliberation, only Malchidiel and Sidera return from the hall. Malchidiel informs Aida that, so long as she’s very careful, she can go about her day, barring any physically strenuous activities. She sighs audibly in relief, thankful she won’t have to be cooped in her room all day, though, she’s not sure her lessons are a much better alternative. “We’ve decided that Samara will be shadowing you for the next few days. I’m concerned with the frequency and intensity of these headaches and want to ensure that someone is around at all times with experience in the matter, who can also be discrete,” Malchidiel finishes.
Of course, you did.
If Samara is disgruntled by this news at all, she doesn’t show it. She simply gathers her things and announces her leave to her own chambers to freshen up. Sidera forces herself to leave her daughter’s side, insisting she send for her if anything changes, which Aida agrees to placate her mother. Malchidiel lingers, writing instructions, Aida assumes, for his apprentice. He fusses with the princess, asking her questions about the frequency and general onset of her headaches, all the while scribbling furiously in one of his journals.
“Very well, Zoraida, Samara will return any moment. Please do be sure you don’t go anywhere without her. We don’t want anything like what happened last night to happen again. You may go to your lessons today, but no training. I am very serious. You don’t want to overdo it and be back in bed. I’ll be in to check with you later tonight,” Malchidiel says before leaving Aida on her own.
Once she’s finally alone, Aida lets out a loud sigh of relief. She throws the covers from her body and hurries to her bathing chambers, hoping to have a few moments of solitude before she begins what promises to be a very long day. When Aida faces herself in the mirror, something seems different. She can’t quite place it, she isn’t even sure it’s a physical difference, at all. Her dark waves fall the way they always have, her skin emits the same youthful glow, her eyes a hauntingly luminescent silver just like the magic that flows within her. Something behind her eyes, though, seems different to her. An unnerving difference so subtle that she’s not sure if it’s truly there by sight alone... but she can feel it stirring within her; something has changed.
Aida hastily disrobes and dips a toe to test the water in her tub. She praises her absent maidens for charming the water to stay warm because the chill of winter threatens to seep into her bones now that she’s left the warmth of her bed. Although she knows she should hurry, Aida feels little need to rush once she’s completely submerged in a blanket of heated waters. Leaning her head back against the curved edge of the tub, she closes her eyes in hopes of letting all her frustrations go. After a few moments, Aida drifts into a peaceful slumber.
When she wakes an indeterminate amount of time later, Aida is startled to realize she’s still in the tub. Having made no progress before falling asleep, she scrubs her body and washes her hair as quickly and thoroughly as she can. She reasons that she can’t have been asleep for too long, since Samara hasn’t made her way back yet, which brings her comfort. Aida dries her body with the fluffy, golden towel that was left by her side, pulls her dressing gown over her otherwise nude body and proceeds to brush and dry her long hair. She absentmindedly hums a lilting tune as she strokes her hair and studies herself.
Feeling satisfied with her reflection, Aida twirls on her heels and breezes into her bed chamber to dress herself, leaving a lingering scent of wild berries, jasmine, and sandalwood in her wake. What she sees when she enters the room stops her in her tracks; Samara sits in the bay window, again, looking refreshed and as intimidatingly beautiful as ever. Aida’s face flushes, she’s unsure how long the apprentice has been in her room, she was certain she had finished before the girl returned. She suddenly feels painfully self-conscious. Aida averts her eyes from the burning gaze of the apprentice and opens the doors of her armoire, tugging the hem of her dressing gown as far down as she can.
“Apologies, Zoraida. When I returned you were... preoccupied, so I simply made myself at home out here. That was a lovely tune you were humming, what is it called?” Samara teases. Aida’s face grows even more crimson than before. She tries to think of the name of the song or where she’d learned it, but nothing comes to mind, only the fuzzy feeling that warns her not to delve any further. She pushes it away and responds, “I’m not sure, it only came to me just then. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting here; I’m sure you have other, much more important, duties to attend to. You could leave if you’d like, I won’t tell.”
Samara snorts in response. Aida knew it was a long shot, but she had to try. Although she’s pined over the apprentice for years, she certainly doesn’t wish to be followed around by her like she’s in need of a babysitter. It doesn’t help that she knows Samara will only ever see her as an unavoidable part of her future role as royal healer. The last thing Aida wants is for Samara to see her as weak, which is why she’s going to prove otherwise.
After dressing herself in her usual daily attire, a slightly less elegant, but more freely flowing gown, Aida sets off, followed by Samara, to search for her sister. It’s been too many days since she was able to freely use her magic and it’s starting to take a toll on the princess. Despite being told explicitly not to do the very thing she’s about to do, Aida struts with a purpose to the training grounds. She needs to let loose her frustrations, and part of those frustrations come from her temperamental younger sister. She has her suspicions regarding Juni’s erratic behavior lately, but she wants to hear the words from her sister’s mouth, even if she is almost certain she won’t like them.
As the pair round the corner to the training grounds, Samara speaks for the first time since exiting the chambers, “Zoraida, wait, what are we doing here? You cannot train today; besides, you haven’t even eaten since last night. I won’t allow this.” Aida decidedly ignores her nagging and pushes the heavy doors open. A dozen or more noble children ranging in age from early childhood to mid-twenties are strewn about, dueling, observing, tutoring each other in all sorts of magical specialties. Meliora is where nearly all the noble children of Sidus come to learn from the best teachers around, as well as other Kingdom’s royals or nobles who are living here at any given time.
Different forms of magic whiz around the arena, carefully monitored by instructors ready to intervene any minute. Aida takes a deep breath and smiles, this is home. She sweeps the arena a few times, finally spotting Juni. When she sees her laughing, preparing to train with Elsie, instead, she huffs and strides towards them. Samara grabs Aida’s arm, effectively stopping her from barreling towards her sister, “I told you that I won’t allow this, Zoraida. It’s not safe, you were just bedridden with hypothermia last night! Malchidiel will have my head if I let you do this.” Aida’s eyes snap to the hand gripping her arm.
Aida looks into the apprentice’s eyes with an uncharacteristic darkness, “I will have your head if you don’t remove your hand from me, this instant,” she growls. Samara, seemingly stunned by Aida’s sudden change in demeanor, releases the princess’ arm and watches her walk away.
When Aida reaches Juni, she can feel her magic coursing just beneath the surface, begging to be released. Elsie and Juniper look both surprised and guilty at seeing her, no doubt feeling ashamed for abandoning her that morning. Before either of them has the chance to speak, Aida grips her sister and drags her towards the middle of the arena.
“I, Princess Zoraida, challenge Princess Juniper to a formal duel, no holds barred.”