Hope Chapter 1
I had never felt pretty. Everyone constantly tells me that I frown far too much. That I am too beautiful to look so unhappy. It makes me frown even more. When they hear about the training that I do they frown as well. They all agree that I am much too beautiful to be so driven. To be skilled in the art of war. What they do not know is that it is where I feel the most at home, not in these silly silk dresses that I am constantly being forced into. The one I had on now had a pretty deep blue dragonflier that curled around it starting at the bottom of my dress and ended on the front of it. I had worn worse dresses and the collar was soft against my neck. The sleeves fit well too. Although I could only think of how much I wanted to get out of it. I was already itching to get into the armor that I would have hanging on the mannequin behind me tomorrow.
I run my hand over the dress sighing at the softness. The fabric had been imported and the dress made here in the castle according to the King’s specifications. It was a bit too long to move the way that I wanted, but I would get past it. I had no reason to fight for my life tonight. Unless I decided to run away to the third ring. I turned to face the mirror next to the mannequin and let out another deep sigh.
“I look foolish.” I say aloud trying hard not to keep frowning at myself in the mirror. I had sat impatiently while my attendants put up my dark brown hair atop my head and scrubbed and cleaned me thoroughly. They had all told me how beautiful I had looked before I told them to leave and part of me wanted to believe them. They weren’t the worse attendants that I’d had but they were always too eager to please, when all I really wanted was to just be spending time with Katarina and Cole, my friends. “It is not like you will not see them at the festival, Hope.” the King had said when I complained, but he was right.
“‘Although you have to participate in the festivities!’ ” I mimic him poorly, “‘Lorina asked if she could have you to put on a demonstration for the citizens’ ”, then I add, “because of course they love you.” They didn’t hate me I think, but they certainly didn’t love me. The King told me that it was because as the heir to the throne they respected me, but I knew the truth. They still felt like I was an outsider. A mud hair. Looking in the mirror now reminded me of how different I am. I have plain green eyes and with my tanned skin and ‘muddy’ brown hair, compared to their blonde hair and fairly light skin, I feel out of place.
I wondered why my skin was darker than theirs and why it had darkened so beautifully in the sun’s heat. It was then that Lorina told me the truth. How I had been found on the shores next to the castle in the arms of my mother. But she had died before anyone had found her. She told me that I looked like her and that she was unsure sure how I had survived but that I was lucky. “Or not so lucky,” she added, “because now you have dragons to worry about.” That had been a long time ago though. There had been peace with the dragons for nearly a ten winters. It had come at a great cost. The King had lost his son.
That was why he kept me around I think, because I am the last option for an heir. I was not sure if he had tried. I only suspect that he was past the age or Lorina, his wife the Queen, did not want to have the trouble. Curse these festivals! I think to myself. I was sure that Lorina could hear me. Always waiting to scold me the same way that she had when she had tried to teach me to be a lady. If only she had not said anything to the King about me sneaking off to the third ring with my friends Cole and Katarina!
Cole had told me about the Sea Traders arrival. I had been curious about the Sea Traders that had come because, like him, I had never seen them before. He did not know that I intended to see if Lorina had been right about me looking like them. But I pretended to join him to see if they actually flew on the backs of Griffins. Katarina had said she had seen a Griffin before. She told us that they were the scariest things that she had ever seen. Wings that looked like overgrown falcons’ attached to the body of a lion. She said that the head matched the wings with a beak like a hawk and eyes round like an owl’s. So Cole and I snuck away to see them for ourselves. Only we were caught.
Thanks to the triplets, Lorina’s handmaidens, Ida, Irma, and Idie had been waiting for us. They stood staring at us with blank expressions and dead looking eyes. I find it unnerving that they finish each other’s sentences and the way that they always seem to be looking through me. They were harmless other than the fact that they were always telling Lorina the things that I did when I was not supposed to be doing them. The way they move through the castle likes spirits also irritated me. I shudder as I pull on my shoes which match my dress and wish that I was wearing boots. “I might as well be barefoot.” I mumble. They had told Cole’s father, Calder, our plan and in turn he and his men had also been waiting for us to return us to the castle.
“Not that you cannot take care of yourselves,” he had said, “but the King would not like it if there was an incident between you and the people in the Third ring. It’s a dangerous place you know!”
I was more than confident that I could handle myself. I had been training to fight dragons nearly my whole life. I was trained in the use of all weapons and could hold my own without them. Although I rarely had time to spare now with all the preparations for the festival. I still make a point to find time to practice with my bow. A blacksmith had made it and my daggers for me. Cole told me that they were made of alabaster a special and extremely rare metal found in dragon lairs. Some said that it was actually dragon bone and, despite that, I had loved them instantly. I had practiced so much that the fingers I used on my right hand to pull the string had become completely calloused.
After I had gotten extremely talented with them I asked the King to have them enchanted for me. To my surprise he did. He told me, “See how the bow glows when you hold it? That means that only you can hold it. If anyone else uses it the arrow will go off course. Oh, and it will certainly help in case you meet any feral dragons!” Not that regular dragons were not dangerous. They were dangerous enough. But a feral dragon could not be reasoned with and that made them infinitely more deadly. There were not too many of them but I still hear stories of parties running into them out in the wild. After the enchantment my bow glows a pretty white over the alabaster when I touch it. I wanted him to help with the daggers as well but he had looked so old then. Withered and pale. Tired, like the magic he used had weakened him. I never asked again because I was worried that I might make him ill if he used his magic too often.
Yet even with all the best training and after never missing a shot with my bow in a year, I was still forbidden from seeing the entire city. But I trusted that the King had good reason to keep me away. And as we all rode in the carriage back to the castle I could swear that everyone looked pleased except for Cole and I. I grew irritated the more that I thought about it so I finished adjusting the dress and sighed again.
There is a quiet knock on the door. I turn and try not to let my frown deepen as Lorina’s Handmaidens walk in. They each have on a similar light blue dress that compliments the others. Their hair is done up like mine as well and they look as stunning as usual. I know they have come for Lorina. She was busy looking over the last few preparations. So she sent them to see if I had tried to sneak away but say nothing as I turn back to the mirror.
“Well at least she is dressed,” one says. I think it was Irma. I could barely tell them apart on a regular day and now that they all were dressed exactly alike I knew that I would never be able to tell them apart. “And now for your face Hope.” The next one finishes.
“Try not to use too much. I would like to be able to wash it off as soon as the festival is over.” I tell them. In all honesty I just wanted them to leave without forcing me into the torture of playing dress up for any longer.
“We were told by the Queen to have you look as natural as possible,” one starts, “because you will be sitting next to the King and next to Cain.” The other two finish simultaneously. They all sigh then. This time I do not hide my frown. When they see the face I make they look at one another and then start again.
“We know you don’t like him. But the least you could do is consider giving him a chance. Especially if the King and Queen both think that one day he’ll rule beside you.” They all take turns saying.
“Oh, well if that is all I have to do to get everyone to understand that I do not like him then sure I can be nice!” I counter sarcastically rolling my eyes.
“Where we come from you do not get a choice in who you marry. Your father accepts the offer from a stranger and you move into a home with your husband. If we had the chance to marry someone like Cain we would never discard that opportunity.” They confess to me. I had never liked Cain that way, even though I was constantly catching him staring at me in the council meetings. He was handsome but I was in no way interested. It also did not help that the King had brought him to Avion to watch over me. After all my escapes from the castle the King had left for Divinity, our sister city, and returned with him. I know immediately why he had come and made no more attempts to leave.
I remember the first time that I had spoken to Cain in length. We had been gathering to meet in the council hall. I had been nearby and so I had arrived early. He was already in the room speaking quietly with the King when I entered. When I took my seat the King looked over and then excused himself from the room momentarily. I had been looking at the map and looked up to find Cain staring at me. When I asked him why he was staring he replied, “I was just wondering why such a beautiful girl is always at council meetings when she could be doing anything else, especially one that is the daughter of the King.”
I felt my face turn red with anger. “Because I do not wish to do anything else!” I explained to him my voice sharp. “And because women are just as capable as men.”
“Of that I have no doubt.” He laughed, “I just thought you might be more the princess type.”
“Then you do not know me.” I snapped.
“You could help me understand.” He prodded.
“I’m sure you would only think I was still a silly princess in the end.”
“Then you do not know me.” He calmly redirected my words back at me.
I made a face and then crossed my arms refusing to look at him until the meeting started. When the King asked me why I was so upset I just brushed it off and rarely acknowledged Cain from then on. Although when the King had awarded him the Spear of Gold and asked me to present it to Cain I snuck off to just show Cain I could find something else to do.
They finally finished brushing creams and powders onto my face and let me look in the mirror. I only looked half bad actually. They had given me the same dark eyed look that they each wore. Raven black powder on my eyelids that faded out turning blue at the edges of my brow. The lip paint they used dried to make my lips look a natural pink. Taking it all in, I did look pretty. I turn to thank them only to find a small box on the seat next to the mirror. When I open it I see the most beautiful crown I have ever seen in all my life. It is silver and has sapphires in it that match my dress. As I slip it on in front of my hair and look in the mirror I finally feel like a princess.
“At least one night is okay to feel different,” I say aloud, “I mean what is the worst that can happen?”
“Well Hope, you could trip, fall down the stairs into the crowd and injure your people.” Katarina says. I spin around surprised and ecstatic to see her. Katarina and I had grown up together in the castle because her mother had sewn all my dresses and clothes when I was a little girl. We were the same age although, I was slightly taller than she. Even though we were not we felt like sisters. She had dark blondish hair that was always tied messily atop her head and it was cut in front to cover her forehead. She was constantly having to always move her hair aside to see. Tonight it was different. It was pinned closely and neatly to her head. Growing up together we learned about magic and Wielders. I knew instantly that she was one of them. You can tell by the eyes. Hers start out a deep grey and shimmer until they end up a light grey, almost white, by the pupils and oddly seem to glow, especially at night.
As she greets me with a hug we look at each other and laugh because it seems we were both attacked by our mothers. Katarina actually has her mother but like me hates to be forced into a dress, even though she can where rags and still be more beautiful than I.
“I see your mother got to you as well.” I say as I laugh with her at the thought that we are dressed like proper ladies.
“I was mere moments away from throwing lightning at her if she kept me away any longer.” She laughs back. Katarina uses all four forms of magic perfectly, but favors Elemental magic because she is best with lightning. She had explained it to me after she had discovered what her gifts were. Elemental magic focuses the cold, heat, light and dark of the elements and turns them into power. Most Wielders use only one form of magic and this is one of the most popular. Katarina had been infamous as a little girl for throwing lightning at people in the city streets as she waited for her mother to be finished with my garments. Her mother then brought her to the castle to play with me instead. I remembered the first time that she had used magic in front of me. A boy had been taunting us for playing with dolls. She had struck him so much lightning that his hair stood on end for hours after. She has a wicked temper and patience the length of a beetlebug.
“No, you would not Katarina,” I say “you love her. But why are you wearing such an extravagant dress?” It was far fancier than anything that I had seen her wear before. It was a low cut emerald gown that showed off her cleavage. It trailed on the ground behind her like mine and she fidgeted with the gold belt that she had strapped around her torso. It was sleeveless and she smiled as she spun to show me her bare back.
“Cole said that he will be at the festival and that he will be saving me a seat. So mother thought that I would need a new fancy dress. Honestly I hoped that she would forget after slaving over yours.”
I had not forgotten that Katarina had started courting Cole. I thought that they made a really great pair. And it helped that he was immune to magic. I remember when Katarina flew into my room through the window to tell me about their first kiss. It took me twenty minutes to get her to stand on solid ground and then longer to calm down enough to tell me what happened. When she explained the part where her lightning had gotten out of control for a second and how she had shocked him I thought for sure he was hurt. But she told me that he was immune. That was the strangest thing that I had heard at the time but eventually it made sense when Cole explained it.
“My bloodline had to become immune to fight the monsters in the old days.” he said. Brushing his hand through his light blonde hair.
“How did they do it?” I asked.
“Secret family spell that got lost over time.” Was the only answer I got from him, although I knew he was hiding something. I could always tell when he was not telling me something by the way his sky blue eyes looked away. But Katarina had assured me it was the truth so I let it go and moved on. She was playing with the jewelry that she was wearing and the emerald ring on her right index finger that I gave her this past spring. I could tell she was nervous because she was twisting it around and round her finger now and so I sat her down and raised my right eyebrow questioningly.
“Alright.” She said with a sigh. “Cole and I are doing wonderfully and I just wish that he is planning on introducing me to his father tonight as you know…”
“His heart?” I ask. “Katarina I am sure that the whole city knows you two are courting. You are always together.”
“Yes. But I want it to be official.”
“Then tell him.”
“I want him to do it! It makes it more romantic!” She says. Katarina could be a little intimidating but I think that is why Cole is so perfect for her. He has never been intimidated! He always makes her smile and curbs her sarcasm with his joyfulness.
“And if he does not I will throw lightning at him until he does feel it!” She vows determination furrowing her brow.
“Fire breather.” I tease. She smiles and slaps my arm. We both look out the window and gaze at the revelries about to commence beneath us.
“Are you ready?” she asks. “I heard that Cain is going to be promoted to General tonight.”
“And that he will ask the King’s permission to court you.” She finishes. Katarina is the only one that understands the reason I never call the King my father. It is not because I do not see him as my father. It is that I feel he has pulled away from me since his son died and she understands.
“What?” I ask taken aback. “Who told you that?”
“Cole said that he heard his father talking about how Cain wanted to court you and told me that he heard the King was a fan of the idea.”
“I do not think that will happen.”
“What do you think Alexander will say?” She asks.
Cole thought that Alexander and I should start courting. When I had asked him why he said, “You will see.” He looked back smiled at me as he took me down to the Second ring to meet Alexander at the blacksmiths’ lodging.
When we arrived and tied up our horses he warned me that Alexander would be a little shy. When we walked over to a pit and Alexander was busy working on a blade. When I saw him I thought he was handsome and that he seemed, like me, focused. I also noticed that like me he was also out of place. When Alexander saw me the only expression I saw was fury not admiration or even shyness. He looked back and forth between Cole and me for a moment and stormed off without saying a single word to me. I had not spoken either. I was stunned by his short dark brown curls and dark green eyes. Cole told me not to move and chased after him. I stayed in the pit looking at the other weapons on the wall. That was when I realized he had made my bow and daggers. While I looked around at the other weapons I could hear Alexander yelling at Cole about me being there.
“You brought her here?” he yelled. Cole replied in a low voice and Alexander responded, “So you bring her here? Cole I could never fit in her world and for all you know she is not interested!”
“Well, you will never know unless you ask!” Cole responded loudly. Just then Alexander strode around the corner and walked directly into me. He caught me before I fell into anything, mainly the huge fire oven, just looked me in the eyes. I stared back watching him just as carefully.
“I--I’m sorry your highness.” He said as he set me on my feet and stepped quickly away.
“It is fine. I was just leaving.” I said before adding, “You are the smith that made my bow.” I frown upset at the way the words had come out. I had not wanted to make him feel beneath me.
“Yes. Is it to your liking? I—I could make you a new one.”
“No this one is perfect thank you.” And there it was. That smile. He makes it each time I go back to have my daggers sharpened. It gives me a strange tingle in my stomach. Of course the one person that knows is Katarina and she swore to never tell. I know it would never be proper to go there alone and probably means nothing but whenever I am with him I feel like I am free to be myself.
“How should I know?” I ask her, realizing that she has caught me thinking about him.
“Well, you two are starting to become friendlier as of late. And do not think I have not noticed your thoughts shifting to him more and more. You get more distracted when you do not see him.” She answers and that was true too. I had not been able to get away to see him for almost two weeks because of the festivities. And the longer I spent away the more distracted I began to get. Sometimes I would catch myself imagining touching the dark curls that stopped just above his lashes and behind his ears. Only to realize that there was nothing more there than friendship.
“I just pray he does not see me in this ridiculous dress!” I say. We both laugh and move to stand on my balcony.
“They all seem so happy.” Katarina says looking down at the people moving towards the great hall across the river from the castle.
“A decade of peace means a lot to them. The dragons have not attacked in a long time.” I reply looking at the sky remembering the days when fire would fall, burning the earth and how the King would have one of the servants hide me deep within the castle so that I would be safe. Out of the two cities in Sidus ours had sustained the most damage. Mostly because we were closer to the dragons, but we had fought long and hard and were now safe.
There was so much happening at that time. The dragons had never wanted the war but the King’s grandfather wanted more land and had realized that the skin of a dragon would make the best armor. With that knowledge he convinced his people and began the hunting. The scales were stronger than any metal, anything that we knew of. There was just one thing that he had forgotten. The dragons were smart. They understood us and spoke back warning some of us of the dangers if provoked. Most refused to listen and even now there are stories of poachers trying to slay slumbering dragons. Most do not live to share their stories. They do not realize that dragons are not to be trifled with. When the King learned this but only too late. The morning he found out about the Old Gods, dragons we call The Lords, and called an emergency council meeting.
The Lords are the biggest most dangerous of dragons. Most dragons are not much larger than a horse. The Lords are said to be as big as the castle. There are four Lords, one of each kind of dragon. The Fire Lord destroyed most of our outposts in the last days of the war before the King made peace. Many believed that it was a sign to stop the war and live in peace while others believed that there would never be peace again. The King had wanted to strike back, but needed to gather more forces from Divinity.
His son, eager to please, left the castle in search of the Fire Lord. His war party found it and attacked. Only one survived. He was sent as a messenger to the city to tell the King to halt the attack and make peace or there would be death to all. When the King received the news he called off the war and made peace that very same day. I believed he only had done it because he was so heart-broken and could not bear any more pain to seek revenge. Many believed that it was because he took the Fire Lord’s warning to heart after all the destruction. But they had not heard the grieving in the castle the way I had.
Looking at the city now, covered in lanterns and decorations, it would look as if there was never any war. I did not know if Divinity had festivals like ours.
“Oh my,” Katarina starts snapping me back to myself, “look who showed up to say hello!”
My eyes follow where she looks and see Cole and Alexander standing beneath my favorite cherry blossom tree looking up at us. Both are dressed up for the festival and when I catch Alexander’s eye he smiles my smile.
“Oh yes,” Katarina says sarcastically, “you are only friends.”
“Be silent and get us down there.” I snap smiling at her.
“One spectacular entrance coming up!” She replies with a smile. Before I can object she’s grabbed my hand and jumped over the edge. I am about to scream when I realize that we are slowly gliding down to the front lawn just a few steps from the tree. When we land, Katarina a little more gracefully than I, my heart still racing, we walk over to the boys. Katarina looks back at me and winks then turns her full attention to Cole who scoops her up and kisses her happily. Sometimes I forget how big and strong he is.
Cole is wearing a white tunic, leather trousers, and of course the leather jerkin that he never leaves home without. I liked the vest personally but Katarina hated it. “I believe that it is in poor taste!” she would say. I thought it was amazing for the very same reason that she could not stand it. The inside had dragon scales sewn in. And not the fake stuff people in the Third ring were arrested for selling but actual dragon skin. When I touched it, the scales felt so soft. Not at all hard like you would believe and I could hardly believe they were nearly indestructible.
They take hands and then make their way towards the bridge for the great hall. I slowly walk toward Alexander and stop to admire my tree leaving some space between us. Alexander is wearing a deep red tunic and black trousers. He looks at me and simply says, “Hello.”
“Are you—you look beautiful tonight.” He makes a face as he adds, “I am sorry that I am not getting better at this.”
“At what?” I ask, “We are friends, right? We should be comfortable speaking with each other.” I reply. I honestly really want to be his friend. I know as well as he does that there is not much more in the future for us.
“I hear that you will be putting on a demonstration.” He states making sound like a question.
“Yes, it is why I have not been down to see you in a while.”
“Oh,” he says, “I thought that your father would no longer allow you anymore.”
“Why?” I ask confused by his explanation.
“The Queen came to tell me—“ He starts but something behind me catches his attention and makes him step back putting more space between us. I turn to see Lorina’s handmaidens behind me staring at him. They stand still their faces void of any emotion yet their presence a threat to him.
“The King sent us to gather you for the dinner,” they say, “and to remind you that the Queen still expects a flawless demonstration.”
“Fine. I will be there in a moment.” I say ignoring them. I look back at Alexander and he nods telling me to go with them. As I walk past him he looks away bowing his head until I pass. I cross the bridge confused and upset.