Heavy rain poured down from the sky, soaking us to the skin. I looked back at Selenah.
Beneath the hood she wore, her golden hair was matted against her face, but she still looked beautiful. Nothing could change her bright blue eyes, long, dark lashes, full pink lips, slender nose, and full face. Perfection was forever hers.
The thought only made me feel worse than I already was.
“We should stop, Mel.” Her voice floated to my ears despite the torrential rain.
“Why?” I asked, ignoring her command as I walked on.
Just as the words left my mouth, my dress snagged onto a surfaced tree root, tripping me. I quickly caught myself on the wet, peeling bark of a nearby tree.
I gritted my teeth as I forced myself upright, trying to peer into the growing darkness if I had cut my hands.
“That is why,” Selenah said as she stopped to sit by a large tree whose leaves took in most of the rain.
I stood in the background, watching with my arms folded over my chest. I grimaced as her lips moved silently, a burst of flame erupting from the ground before her.
“Selenah, we cannot stop now. They are still after y– us,” I corrected myself.
She shrugged at my warning and ran a hand over her dripping cloak to render it dry with another spell while I still shivered in mine.
“Mel, do not worry so much. The power of the Dark Mages and their riding crows are hindered by the rain, have I not told you? I do not quite know why exactly, but trust me. We are safe here.” In the light of the fire, I could see a faint smile on her face.
“You seem awfully sure about yourself for someone who does not ‘quite know’,” I muttered, before I slumped down on the moist ground some feet away from her.
Pulling up my knees, I watched her untie Father’s hand-carved bow from its sling by her waist. She fingered it slowly and set it down to pull out the ruby amulet mother had given her from beneath her cloak. But, of course, that was before we had to leave them to their fate.
Her face softened, eyes watering. I gagged, feeling my stomach twist. If she cared so much for them, why did she run? Why did she not stay and protect them?
“How can you stand yourself?” I hissed. Selenah looked up and turned her head in my direction, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Are you now sorry you left our parents to die? Is that why you cry?” I felt my throat close, but I continued on. “Or is it because you are left in this wilderness without someone to kiss you goodnight or bring you gifts from across the kingdom?”
“Melanie! How dare you mock them at this hour!” She shouted, but I saw the pain in her pretty blue eyes.
“How can I not? You have the magic. You could have saved them, but instead you run from this nonsense you call fate.” Selenah stiffened. I held my gaze.
“I refuse to speak to you.” She turned up her nose and shifted away from me.
I rolled my eyes in scorn, seeing her shoulders heave.
Unable to stop myself, I muttered, “What good is your magic if you cannot save people you care about? How great of a daughter are you?”
Selenah froze. I watched
“Stop it already, Mel! Do you not think I considered it?” she cried over her shoulder.
I shut my eyes briefly at her cracked voice. Her answer did not bring any comfort to me. Perhaps I did not care for one.
With a sigh, I turned away from her and unsheathed the iron sword Father had given to me and glared at it, letting out my anger on the sword as I gripped its hilt. Some of the blade had already succumbed to rust, creating a coppery color at the sides. The only fashionable thing of the sword was the hilt, colored a dark gold with inscriptions that Father had engraved himself.
I threw the sword to the ground in frustration. Not even the flames from Selenah’s fire reflected on its tarnished steel. Why does Selenah get everything? They are after her, not me, I thought, because I am no one.
“Mel,” Selenah said, her voice only loud enough for it to reach my ears.
“What?” I growled, kicking my sword away in a fit of disgust.Why did I even seek something from them?
It would only serve as a reminder of that wretched place.
“Someone is coming, hide!”
I looked up, surveying the sudden darkness. There was nothing in sight, including Selenah and the fire she had started.
When had the rain stopped?
I reached to grab the hilt of my sword when a boot pinned the blade to the ground. Gasping, I looked up and saw a knight, his armor glowing silver. His amber eyes widened for a moment behind his closed helmet.
In a quick motion, I drew the sword from under his foot and stood, ready to fight off this intruder.
“How interesting, a lass with a sword,” he said, unsheathing his rapier. It glowed, just like Selenah’s bow when she touched it.
I took a half step back. Does he possess magic, as well?
I tried to stay calm and flexed the sword in my hand. I barely knew the basics of swordplay. How could I think to challenge a knight? And where is Selenah?
Hoping to take him by surprise, I swung my sword at him, but he leapt out of its reach. He turned quickly and rammed his sword into mine, causing my hand to shake from the vibration. Still, I held on. I hoped to strike him with a more accurate and forceful hit when the sound of someone approaching from behind the knight stopped me. We both turned to see Selenah, her bow drawn and taut.
She released the arrow, finding its place in the knight’s arm. Staggering, he dropped his sword and fell to his knees, his free arm grasping his wounded arm, muttering words under his breath. Selenah looked at me with a smug look on her face.
“What was that for?!” I had the upper hand! Selenah frowned at my mini outburst.
“It looked like you needed help,” she said, flipping her golden hair over her shoulder. I clenched my jaw to stop myself from replying back to her.
“What a fine lass she is,” the knight whispered in awe, his eyes on Selenah.
I scowled at him, jealous of the compliment he had given her, and put my sword to his throat.
“Why have you come here?” I demanded. “And who sent you?”
He smiled. “I come here by order of His Royal Majesty.”
I inhaled sharply, immediately dropping the sword from his throat. The King himself?
Selenah’s eyes widened at hisanswer and I regained my composure enough to ask, “Then why did you attack me?”
“I was told to seek a lady Selenah, a girl with golden locks as bright as the sun,” he said, frowning at my deep brown hair, “and with magic. You are neither.”
“But how do you know she is the Selenah you are looking for?” I inquired. “Surely, there are other girls with magic in Tenebris.” I added the last bit in my vain effort to hope it was true.
The knight stared wistfully at Selenah. “No, never have I come across a magic-wielder with powers to shadow my own,” he answered. My eyes widened. So he does have magic! “I know she is the Lady I seek.”
Selenah nodded at his words and addressed me.
“I think our best hope is to meet the King.”
She blew on her bow and it disappeared out of sight. I pursed my lips at her display of magic.
“And this arrow?” The knight questioned with a frown, indicating his arm. “I cannot remove it.”
“Mel can heal it, unless she is not coming with us,” Selenah replied, “to the King’s Castle, I believe?”
The knight nodded.
I huffed at her words. I knew I could not heal the knight. It would only look as if I healed the knight, but the magic in her arrow would only harm those who were her enemy. And the knight, as of now, was not.
It was a game she had always played with me, trying to make me feel as if I possessed magic.
“I can heal it,” I said under my breath, kneeling down to remove the arrow. It came out quickly, and the scar on his arm vanished, as did the arrow. It was not a surprise now to see him unfazed by the magic that had been used on him.
He stood, nodded a quick thanks in my direction, and put away his sword.
“From which town did you two come?” the knight asked, standing.
“We come from Brassion,” Selenah answered.
“Ah, not too far from here.” He nodded. “And your families? Do they know you are out here?”
Selenah glanced at me. I made a face at her. If she was so quick to trust the knight, she might as well answer all his questions.
“Yes, they do,” she began, biting her lower lip.
The knight leaned closer a fraction, waiting for her to go on. “But we are on our own now.” The knight’s eyes narrowed but after a moment of silence on his part, he nodded.
“Then it will not be a trouble if I escort you to the King’s Castle, yes?” Selenah gave a slight nod. “Alright, follow me.” He then motioned with his hand for her to walk after him, showing Selenah to where he had left his horse.
But before he could take another step, Selenah curled her fingers into a fist and brought it to her chest. The knight staggered back, holding his throat.
“I would like to warn you, though,” she said, walking over to stand in front of him. Her blue eyes were blazing. “If you are not who say you are; you have made a grave mistake in trying to fool me.” She dropped her hand and the knight bent over coughing.
He looked over his shoulder at me and then back to Selenah, straightening. He then bowed low to her sweeping a hand over his chest in servitude.
“You have my word.”
There was only space on the bulky grey horse for two. Selenah got on after the knight did, and they both looked at me, a mix of pity and surprise written over their faces.
At this, I turned around and walked away, my back to them. As I did so, I tried to breathe out the hurt in my chest. I knew the path to the King’s Castle– the main road led to the castle and we were not far from the main road either. I did not need any gallant knight to escort me there.
Then I realized that going to the King’s Castle was futile. The King wanted Selenah, not me. So there was no point in going at all.
“Mel!” I heard Selenah yell after me, breaking me from my thoughts. But there was no reason to even listen to her. “Mel!” she called again. “Melanie!” she cried. I heard her jump off the horse and head in my direction.
With a huff, I turned around to face her growing silhouette, angry tears in my eyes.
“If you are to meet the King, go meet him! Who am I to stop you?” I saw her halt at my words but I quickly turned around and rushed to get away from her.
While I had no place to go, at least Selenah would no longer get in the way now that she was due at the King’s Castle.
Bright sunlight woke me up. Sitting upright, I blinked and looked around me, unable to recall where I was.
I glanced around. I was under an oak tree, and neither the knight nor Selenah were anywhere to be seen.
I smiled a little. Finally, I was rid of her.
Standing up, I stretched, enjoying my first moments of spring in freedom. I could even hear the sound of running water and the rustling of leaves—
I got up and steadied myself, my mind fully alert. Selenah could not find me. I would not let her, not when freedom was mine.
But it was not the sound of the knight’s stocky horse that I heard. It was the sound of wing beats– very loud and large wing beats. My eyes widened and my heart began to pound. It must be them, I thought. But why are they coming for me?
I took off as fast as I could towards the running water. Selenah had said the Dark Mages were weakened by the rain, making a water source as my only option to defend myself.
But when I reached the running water, I saw that it was a Rapid River. It was something I had only read of in my father’s old cellar, where I had spent my days reading throwaway books he had acquired in his travels. All Rapid Rivers had blinding white waters that hurled many miles downstream before cascading down into a waterfall.
My breathing faltered, unable to decide on what to do. There was no way I could cross through it to the other side. I slapped my cheeks, feeling trapped. I was inadequate in the outside world. Everything I knew came from Father’s books and what Selenah told me.
I could hear the wing beats of the crows getting louder and louder. I have to get away. If Selenah runs from the Dark Mages, what chance do I have against them?
I held my breath and jumped into the Rapid River, knowing that the river itself might just be strong enough to kill me.
The water was ice cold and it bit into my flesh.
I resisted the urge to scream, as the waters hurtled me toward the waterfall.
I heard the distant caw of the crows as they came into the clearing. I looked back and saw their shadowy figures trying to avoid the sprays of water.
For a moment I breathed calmly, but then the cold water below thrust me forward, straight into one of the eroded boulders that had surfaced. I could do nothing to change my course and braced myself for impact.
My left shoulder and side hit the rock with a force that left me breathless. I clung to the boulder with my good hand, pushing myself onto its slippery surface. Paralyzed by the stinging pain, I stayed there for a time while sprays of water blurred my vision. I heard a roar from a coming wave and shut my eyes, the rushing water shoving me down along the rest of the river.
I screamed, from both the pain and force, flailing my arms, plummeting down below to the bottom of the waterfall for what seemed like hours. The rush of air and water blurred my vision and the coldness blanked my mind.
My body hit the water with a crack. The current below me died quickly and I sank down into the depths of the lake. My muscles lost all their energy and willpower, the darkness below enveloping me. I fought the surge of the lake as it tried to pull me under.
I struggled to breathe, grasping into the air, but I was too weak, too hurt to even move. I knew that I would not survive.
Just then I felt myself being lifted out of the water, as if hands had scooped me out, before placing me gently onto the lake shore.
I coughed up water as I tried to breathe. The moment my breathing calmed, I slammed my fist to the ground. Selenah had used magic on me, when she knew quite well that I hated it, despite that it had just saved my life.
Even as separate as we were, she and I were still together. It was as if our souls were linked somehow.
I realized then that I could never, truly be free of her, no matter what I did, no matter how far I strayed from her side.
Running is no longer an option for me.
I stood with shaky legs, using my knee to balance myself, when I noticed my dress was dry, and not wet like it should have been. I gritted my teeth. Another spell.
I glanced about. A dense forest hugged the lakeside and waterfall. I closed my eyes, exhaling slowly, and thought back to when I had memorized father’s maps.
A Rapid River that flowed east. Thick woods.
I must be just north of the King’s Castle, about half an hour away.
I nodded to myself in hollow assurance. I would make it to the King’s Castle the same time Selenah and her knight did, if not, earlier.
By the time I reached the King’s Castle gates, I was exhausted. I had spent most of the morning weaving through the forest and had finally come upon the road that led straight into the King’s city, which had last been named, Akron.
I walked through the busy street and kept my head low. Upon seeing the gates to the King’s Castle, I straightened up and walked on, hoping they would allow me to enter. Selenah was sure to have arrived by now.
The Castle itself was not very impressive. From here, I could see the four towers surrounding the central building, and great stone walls surrounding it. There was nothing fancy about it, save for a golden banner hanging across the entrance.
“Halt,” ordered the sentry guard as I neared. “No one without authorization is allowed into the King’s Castle.” I took a deep breath.
“I am Selenah’s sister. I am to meet her here.”
The guard lifted the face guard of his helmet to look at me. “I was told the Lady Selenah has golden hair and is to be escorted by the Captain of the Royal Guard. Nothing was said about a sister,” he said, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
Of course not, I thought. If the knight —the Captain of the Royal Guard— escorting Selenah did not know of me, how would the King know?
“Let her pass,” someone said behind me. The voice was light, yet commanding. Selenah.
The sentry moved out of the way, seeing both Selenah and the Captain by her side.
“Your Ladyship,” he said, bowing to her directly. “His Majesty is expecting you.”
Selenah nodded and tugged me inside, slightly frowning. I normally would never have let her touch me in such a demeaning way, but I was much too preoccupied with anger from the sentry’s immediate respect for Selenah and not me.
Though we were to be ushered straight to the King, a maid insisted we change and wash up. She took my sword away, a deep frown etched in her features.
I made a face at her turned back as she walked away with it. Selenah was then fitted in a beautiful silver and pink gown, and I into a pasty blue.
I clenched my fists as she gazed at herself in the mirror, admiring the dress she had been put into. Why am I given the plain dress and she the magnificent one?
As the maid led us through the King’s Castle, it was not as great as I had imagined it to be. Faded paintings filled the walls, draperies of a crowned woman had been left coated with dust; there were no great statues I had imagined there would be, nor were the carpets rich and exotic. Everything seemed old, untouched.
“Selenah, why is the castle like this?” I whispered to her. “Did you not expect something more from the King’s Castle as I have?”
Selenah looked over at me, her fingers tracing the dark stone walls. Her fingertips lit up for a moment before she spoke.
“When Queen Isomara died a few weeks after her son was born, the King announced that the castle be in mourning until another queen takes her place.” I leaned back, now seeing the fadedness of the castle in a new light. “The King had even shut down the castle’s Kennel since the Queen favored dogs.” She paused, tilting her head. “He also shut the Solstice Palace from visitors as it was her favored residency during the winter—” Selenah stopped speaking as the maid escorting us turned around and stepped aside.
The Guards bowed to Selenah before opening the large brass doors leading to the Throne Room. She hesitated before walking up into view, while I trailed behind.
“Your Majesties,” Selenah announced, curtsying.
I did the same, but they seemed not to notice me. The King’s and the Prince’s eyes were fixed on Selenah, as if she were a storyteller’s princess come to life. And in truth, she was.
“What is your name, child?” The King asked, leaning forward in his throne, an eager expression on his thin face. He had all the features of an aging king: a graying beard, a wrinkled forehead, and drooped eyes. His son, however, was in his prime. The Prince had gold-flecked hair, hazel eyes, rosy pink lips, and a charming smile.
I blinked, hearing Selenah speak to answer the King’s question.
“Selenah, your Majesty.”
The King grinned, his eyes glancing over at his son and back.
“We have waited a long time for you,” he said. “A girl with golden hair like the sun, and magic with no limits. A woman like our Queen Selina—”
I looked away from them, bored by their praising of her, and instead, I stared at the empty seat to the King’s right. A crown lay on the seat where I assumed the late Queen would have sat in.
“—prophecy. And who is the young lady beside you? Your maid?”
I felt my jaw drop. I hoped the King did not intend to be so rude, but I could not help feel offended by his words. The anger of his uncouth manner towards me was too much to handle, and I was sure if I opened to mouth to correct the King, I would say more than just that.
Instead, I ran out the room, not thinking of the consequences I could face for doing so. I heard Selenah call after me, but I ran even faster. And having not seen where I was going, I ran straight into a guard.
I was going to hide the stray tears that had fallen and mumble my apologies to escape, when I saw his eyes. I could instantly recognize his amber colored eyes. It was the Captain of the Royal Guard. Except now, he was not wearing his knight’s helmet, revealing a man in his early thirties, with light brown hair and sun-tanned skin.
“Mel, is it?” I did not answer, because he already knew it was my name. I looked over my shoulder, uncomfortable. I was much too close to the Throne Room. What if Selenah came after me? “You seek an escape,” the Captain said, eyebrows raised. I frowned.
“How did you know?”
He only smiled, and with his arm, gestured that I walk with him out of the King’s Castle. Nodding, we walked onto a cobblestone path filled with hedges and topiaries. I did not care where he took me, as long as it was away from Selenah.
“Tell me, Mel,” the Captain said. “I assumed you and Lady Selenah were supposed to see the King, yes?”
“Only Selenah was supposed to see the King,”
I said, not bothering to wipe away my tears. He had seen me humiliated before.
“But you went with her,” he said, turning to face me. Taking out a handkerchief, he gently wiped a tear off my cheek before I could take the handkerchief and do it myself. “Why did you leave so abruptly?” I huffed at the memory of the King’s words.
“Trying to be a runaway maid.”
The Captain raised his eyebrows. “The King thought you were...” I waited for him to laugh, but he did not. He only shook his head, tucking away the handkerchief. “Do not think much of it, Mel. His Majesty has enough on his mind.”
I snorted. “Yes, and it is only about Selenah.”
“Perhaps—” He stopped himself when we heard heavy footsteps behind us. We both looked back to see the Prince coming toward us with several Guards following. He turned back to face me. “Mel, when you ran off I did not think you would come back— but you did. So why not try to make the best of your situation instead of running again?” He raised an eyebrow, slightly inclining his head to me before turning to leave. I caught his arm.
“Wait,” I said, “you never told me your name.”
He smiled. “You may address me as Connor.”
He walked toward the Prince, bowed, and left.
I gazed at the Prince, wondering what he could be thinking. He was not angry. Displeased maybe, as I now could see he was frowning.
“Melanie,” he started. It was not a surprise he knew my name. “I would like to apologize on my father’s behalf. Please, forgive us for our...lack of respect. Will you please join us for a welcoming meal?”
I fought the urge to raise my eyebrows. Did the Prince just apologize to me? I forced myself to smile and curtsy before speaking to him.
“It would be an honor,” I said. “And no, forgive me for my thoughtlessness.”He smiled briefly in return and held his arm out.
I took it as a sign of things to change.