The Prince and I made our way back to the King’s Castle. I kept my head down as he escorted me to a dining hall where the King and Selenah were already situated. Selenah smiled at me, but I resisted the urge to frown as I bowed my head to the King, muttering an apology. He waved his hand, dismissing my words and motioned for me to take my seat.
It was not long after we had all settled onto our seats during our supper when a knight burst in, panting. The King looked up at him a flash of fear in his eyes.
“They have come, Your Majesty,” he said, gasping for breath. “They know.” His eyes slid over to Selenah.
I swallowed. The Dark Mages know she is here.
“Follow what was planned,” the King said, leaning back. “I do not want any casualties, understood?”
The knight nodded and ran out as fast as he had come in.
“Your Majesty, are they here for me?” Selenah asked, as if she did not know the answer. She had her fingers gripping Mother’s amulet. The King’s jaws tensed.
“Yes, but fear not, they will not get past the Royal Guard,” the King replied. “Their magic as a united force is something to behold.” I looked over at Selenah, eager to see her reaction to the King’s words. She was not the only one who possessed powerful magic now.
To my surprise, Selenah seemed relieved, and she released her grip on the amulet. We were silent for some time before the King motioned for us to continue our meals.
I lifted my spoon to enjoy the savory tastes of creamed soups, and endless choice of freshly cooked meats that came with it. Halfway through the meal, I looked up. It was then I caught notice of the Prince staring at Selenah. She had finished her meal and was speaking to the King. The three looked homely together, without me.
I dropped my spoon back onto the plate. I just could not stand it. Selenah had found her place in the world. But where is mine?
“Excuse me,” I muttered, standing up. I left before anyone could say or do anything in response.
I did not know exactly why I had left, but there was a sense in me that no matter how hard I tried to make a living for myself, Selenah would always get in the way. I grimaced at the thought. There was something telling me I did not stand a chance against Selenah, so why even try?
When I had walked out, the two Guards standing outside the door were surprised by my sudden appearance. In doing so, my shoulder collided with the edge of the spear in one of the Guards’ hands when he had turned to face me. Itsnagged onto my dress and cut into the thin fabric, and onto my skin.
“My apologies miss,” he said.
I held my wounded shoulder and continued on, seeing from the corner of my eye that he had shrugged at his partner.
I turned away, feeling blood on my fingertips where I had touched the small cut on my shoulder.
I only sighed and pressed on further, wishing to be invisible, to find someplace I could belong. Why is my life not as wonderful as Selenah’s? Why was she granted the magic and beauty to get her happiness and not I?
I had not realized where I was going until I stumbled over a large stone. Regaining my balance, I quickly looked about me. I was in a dense forest that had no light except from the shafts of sun that penetrated through the leaves of the oak trees. I turned around, hoping to see a guard who might have followed me, but there was no one. Fear shot through me and my breathing quickened.
Trying to calm down, I assessed the possibilities of where I was. I must have found my way into the woods behind the King’s Castle by mistake. I made a move to head back when there was a rustling of leaves behind me, and then shouts.
Several Guards ran past me, their arms covering their heads. I could hear the familiar sound of flapping wings in the distance.
One of the Guards looked back at me and shouted, “Run, miss! Run before they get you, too!”
My first instinct was to do exactly as he had warned, but instead, I found myself running forward, towards the wing beats and shouts.
I came across a large clearing where a dozen or so men in plated armor and glowing swords —the Royal Guards perhaps— fought two large crows with hooded riders atop their backs.
A crow’s talon reached for one of them and grabbed him. He screamed in terror and dropped his sword, while the rest of his fellow knights stood frozen with fear. This could not be the King’s idea of keeping us safe from the Dark Mages.
A sudden thought told me to be bold. If these Royal Guards could not help their comrade, perhaps I could.
I took up a large rock near my foot and hurled it at the bird that had captured one of the men. It did not hit where I aimed, but it hit the beast nonetheless.
For a moment nothing happened, but then the bird cocked its head in my direction, dropping the man it held. Its rider sniffed, as if it was some hunting dog, and the two crows turned in my direction. Fear suddenly pierced me and I stumbled back.
“Take the young Mistress,” one of the riders said, spurring his crow towards me. The other Dark Mage did as well. I turned and ran as fast as I could, wondering why they had referred to me as mistress.
I picked up my skirts and kicked off my fashioned slippers, running barefoot, in effort to gain speed.
I began to head toward softer earth —a sign of a water source nearby— when I felt a gust of air above me and cold talons grip my shoulders, lifting me skyward.
My scream went unheard above the crow’s sharp and triumphant caw.
The tall trees of the forest became little more than green patches beneath me. There was a waterfall not far from us that roared into a wide river below us, but the crows seemed unaffected by it because of the large distance between them.
My chest heaved in anger. Why do I not have any magic to protect myself?
Below me, I saw the Royal Guards gather by the river’s shore. One of them threw something at me, shining in the daylight.
It was a sword.
I reached for it, but before my hand could tighten around the hilt, the crow jerked upward.
I was unable to get a hold of the sword, but managed to cut my palm on the blade. The sword fell, splashing below me. Blood from my hand dripped into the river’s water below. Tears sprang in my eyes as I clenched my bloodied hand. I want magic. I need magic to save myself.
The river’s water began to bubble and hiss. The Dark Mages, having heard it, slowed down in their initial haste to take me away. The water frothed and simmered, forcing the Royal Guards to back away from the riverside. The water writhed and twisted, and before my eyes, it became the upper torso of a man with a crown on his head and a trident in his right hand.
Now, the crows stopped altogether and turned around to see it. The water creature lifted its trident to the sky, making the clouds rumble, and pointed it at the crows.
A gush of cold water sprayed out from the trident with such force, it paralyzed the crows. I screamed as the birds fell out of the sky, the river’s surface coming closer and closer with every passing moment.
One of the crows raked its claws onto me, as if I could save it. I shrieked as its talons dug into my flesh. My back, left shoulder and stomach burned. I shrieked at the pain, crying out for help.
I fell atop something, and felt it grab me. I kicked out, believing it to be one of the Dark Mages.
In all the chaos, I heard someone whispering soothing words to me. I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling the warm blood from my open wounds trickle down my back, mingling with the cold water. Engulfed with searing pain, I fell unconscious.
The faint hum of voices woke me. I blinked rapidly to clear my vision. One of the Royal Guards was beside me, tending to my shoulder wound.
I took in my surroundings. I was on the ground, in a tent. My dress was cut to show a jagged black gash that ran along my stomach. I grimaced at the sight.
“You have awaken.”
I turned my throbbing head in the guard’s direction. He looked at me with a small smile, as if he were truly glad to see me alive. I turned away and closed my eyes.
The sound of Selenah’s voice brought me to open my eyes again. I heard her complain to someone how it was not right for them to cut my dress the way they had and touch my bare skin. Her talking seemed to make my headache worse.
Selenah turned around and headed towards us. My shoulder pulsed and I tried to move away. The wound on my stomach and back flared with pain.
“Do not move,” the Royal Guard instructed, laying a hand on my arm before pulling away as Selenah entered the tent. When she did so, she glared at the Royal Guard, and then turned to me with sorrowful eyes. I turned away, my wounds starting to hurt at her presence.
“Mel, are you all right?” she asked softly. “Does it hurt?”
The pain seemed to double as she touched my arm lightly, the blood within my veins heating up. I stopped myself from crying out.
“Please,” I said to the Royal Guard. “It hurts, it hurts. Take her away, please.”
He looked at Selenah. I could not tell what he said to her, but I heard the rustle of her skirts as she stood up and left, the pain gone with her.
I slipped in and out of consciousness for what seemed like days, although it was impossible to tell how long I had actually slept for. After some time, the pain subsided, but I did not have the strength to sit upright or stand on my own.
My clothing was changed several times in the weeks that I was unable to do it myself. Selenah had assured me that no one else was present, which I believed because at those times I felt the greatest pain that would vanish when she left.
Other than Selenah, one of the Royal Guards was always at my side whenever I was awake. He claimed that his sword had cut me and that I had bravely saved his life from the giant crow. He said he was indebted to me for such a heroic feat.
He introduced himself as Tiran of Resvell, a port city from the southern coast. He had a dark complexion and was quite heavilymuscled, reflecting no hint of his age. But from his gray sprinkled hair, he was sure to be in his late thirties or early forties.
During the nights,Tiran would tell me stories of great warriors when I lay awake, in pain, before I would drift back into a dreamless, healing sleep.
Tiran also told me the Prince was here, whom Selenah addressed as Gareth. They were perhaps very close if she could call him by his first name only. I was not surprised.
During the weeks I was recovering, Tiran told me a story that was unusual compared to his others. Instead of a famed warrior, he spoke of a deranged prince and his evil doings. Tiran said it was a tale he had been told on his first day at the King’s Castle as many believed the Royal Guard had been created to protect the kingdom from him.
I closed my eyes and pictured each person in vivid detail, as Tiran went on. Why does it feel like I am recalling a memory?
He went on to speak of this prince, a fourth born prince, who had wanted to be known to the world for his great magic, but the people and his family grew afraid of his lust for power. They had used a sorceress to spellbind him in a remote cave where he was said to have broken free. He had begun a rampage of murders, cursing all those who had opposed him. It was said that he died in the same place he had been confined to, killed by his own father.
This prince had lived during the time of Queen Selina the First and was known as the Reaper. He was now infamously named the Shadow Reaper, for some believed he was still alive and after Selenah.
“I feel sorry for him,” I told Tiran after he finished his tale. He gave me a quizzical look and waited for me to explain. “He was only acting like that because no one cared to understand him. Was he not the only one in his family with magic? He was also a fourth prince, which meant that he would never ascend to the throne.” I surprised myself for even thinking that this prince was not evil.
“He killed more people than you can count, Mel.” Tiran paused at the mention of my nickname. I gave him a shy smile and he continued. “But when you put it that way, I suppose it is hard not to forgive him. Now you get to sleep. Your wounds are healing up and the best thing you can do is rest.” I nodded and turned my head away.The story of the young prince played before my closed eyes, leading me into a dream.