Loud cawing pierced the silence of the night. I raced over to the window and gasped. A large group of crows surrounded the palace gates, as well as the skies above it. Several were the large crows that the Dark Mages rode, while the others were ordinary-sized.
I saw Selenah walk up slowly. But she was not alone. Several Royal Guards were at her side, and so was Prince Gareth. Something told me that there was more to the crows than what we saw. Why does the Shadow Reaper send crows?
Selenah waved her hands, shooing the birds away. White sparks formed on her fingertips before surrounding the intruders. And as quickly as they had come, the birds vanished into thin air.
I was stunned at the display of quick, effective magic when I saw Selenah fall to her knees, holding her head in her hands.
Prince Gareth rushed to her side. He took her into his arms and carried her back into the palace.
What caused to her to weaken so suddenly? I thought it was odd that Selenah would collapse after the use of one spell. Her magic was much greater than that. I rushed out of my chamber. Something was wrong, and I did not like it at all.
The Palace was no more abuzz with Selenah’s sudden collapse than the addition of new servants. Everyone else was already in bed or preparing for their nightly slumber. The day had been a boisterous one, and it seemed that nothing was amiss to their eyes.
As for me, I did not need to check up on Selenah. It would be a waste of time to check on her personally when Prince Gareth and the Royal Guards would see to her.
I was determined to figure out what was the source of this treachery and put an end to what they intended to do with Selenah in such a weakened state. I wracked my mind for what could have caused her unpredictable instability. My thoughts to her dessert during supper came to mind.
Could someone have tampered with her food? I thought it unlikely, but decided it was a better start than none.
On my way to the kitchens, I nearly collided into someone, for the candles had already dimmed. I muttered apologies and was on my way when the person caught me by the arm.
“Melanie.” The voice was unmistakable: Owen.
I frowned. I was in a hurry and did not intend on listening to whatever he had to say.
“Why are you up so late? If you are worried about Selenah, I assure you she is—”
“I can ask you the same, Archduke,” I said coldly, making him let go of my arm. “Now, I am busy. I have someplace to be, and it does not require your involvement. So please, be on your way.”
“If you would just let me explain,” he pleaded. His voice was sincere, and I could not hide the guilt I felt. But now was not the time for explanations.
“Not now,” I said dismissively, and ran off towards the kitchen.
I ran so fast that I slid when I stopped. All the cooks and kitchen maids looked up at me in shock, as I them. I was half expecting them to have a pot of some sort, brewing an evil concoction, but what I saw was a bunch of servants readying tomorrow’s breakfast, which by the looks of it, would be cream-filled biscuits and strawberry tea.
“Oh, uh...” I was at a loss for words.
The head cook looked around quickly at the piles of dishes and silverware in the sink.
“Mistress, if you are hungry—”
“No, it is all right,” I cut her off, noting that only she and a few others were there. “I was just...checking. Good night.” I eyed the bowls and used kitchenware on the tables. Nothing looked wrong here and I turned back, frowning.
Perhaps no one had tampered with Selenah’s food. What am I thinking? I took a deep breath before I entered my chamber. I needed to stop being so paranoid. Selenah would be fine...if she indeed was sick with something.
I fell asleep quickly and was unaware of the unexpected visitor that watched me from the skies.
The next day I expected Selenah to still be unwell, but to my surprise, she was her usual self, taking command of everything and trying her best to make my life miserable.
She had me greet and get to know the other nobles in the Palace so they would feel welcomed and so I could, in her words, make more friends. I did not need more “friends” who would answer to her about my doings and whereabouts.
I was practically bored out of my mind as one of the nobles happened to be an old woman who loved talking about her past life as a rich, beautiful, young courtier. But she was now, to her misfortune, quite plump with wrinkled skin.
“So you see, my dear, you choose your suitors very seriously. If your mother were here, I would tell her a few things she should know about the noblemen of Tenebris,” Lady Yael said, giving me a wink.
Her reference to Mother only made me sit back in my seat and nothing more.
“As for you,” she continued. “It seems that your sister has beaten you to the Prince. Ah, which reminds me of the time I once had a very handsome Lord woo me...”
I had a massive urge to roll my eyes at the old woman, but sipped at my tea instead. I just had to find out how to leave this torture.
After enduring another half hour of Lady Yael’s stories and several failed attempts to escape her clutches, she motioned me to come close and her aging eyes began to light with excitement.
“There are rumors,” she said, whispering. “About how your sister will not be able to have the Prince after all.”
I raised an eyebrow. Now this was something worth listening to.
“They say the King has other plans. He needs to show his allegiance to Porticor, a very wealthy nation with four very pretty princesses. And since King Liason only has one son...” She let the words sink in, and my eyes widened at the realization. “But they are just rumors,” she added with a sly smile. “And I am just an old woman, talking out of sorts with a sixteen-year-old duchess.”
Lady Yael and I said our farewells, and I made my way back to the Grand Library. I needed some time to think in peace. I sat down once more amongst the high shelves stacked with literature and gazed out the window that overlooked the courtyard.
What Lady Yael said could not be true. It is just a rumor. But if not, surely Selenah would know. After all, she and Prince Gareth did seem close. I decided to keep this information to myself, and spare myself Selenah’s ridicule if I told her what I learned and it turned out to be false.
No sooner had I made up my mind, I saw Prince Gareth and his Guards make their way out of the Palace on horseback. They rode off in a hurry once outside the gates. I thought I noticed a bird flying above them, or perhaps was it my imagination.
To wash away my unease, I decided to figure out why Prince Gareth left, just to make sure things were all right.
Hastily, I left the library and approached Selenah’s chamber. The two Guards outside her door stiffened and glanced at each other. The older looking one spoke first.
“Her Ladyship Selenah is not here, Mistress,” he stated.
“Where has she gone?” Anxiety began to settle in my chest.
“We are not sure,” the younger one said, looking at his companion. “She just...” By looking at my vexed expression, he quickly added, “Her Ladyship is well and...um...”
“Mistress, Her Ladyship seemed excited about something. Please do not concern yourself with her absence,” the older guard said, giving his younger comrade a reproachful glare.
I nodded and walked away. So maybe the Prince’s leave is nothing related to Lady Yael’s rumor. I sighed, shaking my head. It was absurd to think Prince Gareth would marry a Porticorian Princess when Selenah was Tenebris’ savior. She had the magic and the looks to rule as a queen.
Unaware, I began to wander aimlessly through the Palace, feeling an urge to do something, but unsure of what exactly. I found myself by the stables, and feeling rather bored, decided to go riding for a while.
The stable hand showed me the necessary attire I would have to abide by if I were to ride. Once geared up and set for a ride, I tried to mount Coal, a muddy black mare who seemed just as uninterested in her stay indoors.
When I failed to mount her, the stable hand helped me up, giving me a sour look after I had accidentally kicked his hand. I apologized and scolded myself for making a fool of myself in front of him. I had not ridden a horse in years. The last time I had, Father had shouted at me for tiring out his steeds when he needed them to carry his wares to town.
I shook away the memory. Selenah had used her magic to ease the horses’ fatigue and earned Father’s favor.
As Coal trotted about in the grassy fields outside the stables, I noticed I was not the only one there.
The sun was too bright for me to see a face, but the horse was visible: a glowing mane of gold, a shiny coat of white, and a set of pink colored reins; I could only imagine who the rider of this beautiful beast was: Selenah.
No sooner had I identified her, she and her horse daintily galloped over to us. She circled around, as if showing her horse off. I scowled at her.
“Do you like the horse Gareth gave me?” she asked, making me realize this was why she had left.
She looked at the horse I was upon and frowned. “That thing does not look so pretty.”
Coal snorted and shook her head at Selenah’s comment. I gave her a triumphant look. If Selenah did not like this horse, and the horse her, she was mine.
“Mel, let us go watch the recruits for the Royal Guard down by the battlements. I am sure it will be entertaining!” She turned and rode off, dirt flying into the air. I decided to follow, but at a slower pace. It was not like I would be in the arena.
My time watching the new recruits was not a wasted one. Especially since Selenah had wooed Connor and all his men into letting her train with them.
I wanted to laugh aloud when I saw the looks on the men’s faces when they were told they would have to challenge Her Ladyship and I could not help chuckle when Selenah bested them as they all spluttered excuses about why they had lost.
Her last challenger had actually put up a fight, and perhaps because Selenah’s arm seemed to tire in the middle of their match, the full armored trainee took the upper hand and ended up winning.
The result left me gaping, along with the rest of the men who had been watching the match.
“Congratulations!” Connor said to the victor, giving him a hard slap on the back. “You have bested her Ladyship when the rest of the new lot was unable to.”
A chorus of objections rose from the audience as Connor turned to face his men, displeased. “Now off with you! If you cannot fair well against a lady in combat, you do not deserve to serve and protect the King!”
Selenah walked up to where I leaned against the arena fence.
“I need to take a bath,” she said, with a slight frown on her face.
I grinned, seeing that she was upset from the loss.
“Walk with me,” she said, taking my hand and making me to join on her trip back inside.
I huffed. I earnestly wanted to meet the one person who had defeated her in sword-combat, but I decided I could always do that later. He was one of the new Guards after all, and would serve the Palace.
As if by instinct, I looked up towards the sky as we walked back into the Palace, expecting to see the eagle soar overhead.
And it was.
I noticed it would not fly any lower than the peak of one of the Palace’s towers, which I found peculiar. There were plenty of trees in the palace grounds that it could perch on, yet it would only rest on the trees outside the Palace.
Selenah jerked on my arm, forcing me to look away, before going on about her last challenger andwhy she had lost to him. I tuned her out, assuming she would just make up anexcuse for her defeat, so I listened to the sound of the eagle’s distant wingbeats.