Her shadow edged tall against the dim red light that filtered through the red foulard curtains as she listened to the fading steps. It fell across her face, highlighting the mark upon her forehead, a ring with a blade thrust through it, two claws hooked at its top and two thorns floating by the point of the blade, pointing outward as if to warn.
The ring, the crown for power; the blade, the sword for justice, Siareih remembered her mother’s words when the mirror half-hidden by shadow that stood by the wall showed her vague reflection to her. The claws by the crown - you, the strength inside of you, the thorns by the blade the people you rule, the strength that surrounds you. In the red light her dark copper skin gained a scarlet tint.
Siareih’s hand instinctually reached for her forehead, fingers grazing over the smooth skin. The ring, the crown for power... The crown they’re now stealing from me. Her hand darted back down to ball into a fist and she turned away, her frizzy hair bouncing after.
The nights in Yijali palace became lighter and warmer with each day as summer quickly approached; even in the hour of the wolf the sky remained the hue of twilight and Siareih knew candles would attract attention.
After the order she'd given her guard, as loyal as he was, staying in her bedchamber was too dangerous.
In one of her drawers she found a belt with a sheathed dagger and a couple bottles attached to it and hurriedly buckled it around her waist. Next went the cloak with a deep hood that she’d never worn before and prayed won’t be recognized in.
Finally she took out her box of jewelry and fit her heaviest, most lavish bracelets on her forearms - she didn’t dare putting them on her wrists where they would jingle and glint in the moonlight just like the little bells that woke the guards - and serve the same purpose.
She didn’t dare putting any of her crowns either. It’s okay, she consoled herself as she gave one last look to her favorite one, a weave of roses with golden, thorny stems and delicate sapphire roses, beautiful but dangerous all the same. The way she was, the way she hoped she was. The only crown I need is the one I was born with anyway.
The ring, the crown for power, the ring, the crown for power, echoed in her head along with her blood as her shaking hands pulled the hood over her forehead, pulling it down until she could barely see above her line of sight. The ring, the crown for power.
Her heavy hand pulled at the ring encased in the gilded lion’s snarling jaws and pulled, her sandals stepped unsure, carefully onto the marble of the hallway, her head snapping back and forth in fear of discovery but the hall was empty.
Her first couple of steps were still shy, but once Siareih was sure she was alone, her feet set apace, making sure not to step off the Lurenish carpet that stretched protectively over the white marble where they would cause a ruckus.
The ring, the crown for power, she told herself again and again, stopping between the endless hallways and stairs, turning left and right, running up and down, her blood drumming footsteps in her temples. The ring, the crown for power.
Several times she found the dazed, sleepy guards at some of the doors that speckled the hallways and turned the other way, hooking her way around them and running alternate turns, sometimes unconsciously grasping for the hilt of her dagger as if she feared it would disappear.
And the closer Siareih approached her destination, the louder the drum became, the deeper fear sunk its teeth into her. She was close, too close. Siareih flew higher and higher, almost touching the sun - what if it burnt her wings at the very last moment?
Though she compared her retreat to flight, in reality she was determined to make her way down, as far down as possible, where a leap out of an open window into the night wouldn’t hurt her if it came to that. That, and because her bedchamber, where they would likely seek her if the plan fell through, was on the highest story of the palace and their search would buy her at least a forth of an hour of precious time, time she could use to make her escape... Though she didn’t know where yet.
She breathed in the moist air that was so pleasant to her dry throat and opened the door.
Nobody. Siareih’s fingers finally could release the dagger she clutched so hard.
The room was relatively large, larger than her bedchamber anyway. The center was dominated by a large round table covered in maps, at the heart of it laid an immense version of the world's map. Wooden figures of intricate were scattered on each. Centaurs, bears, serpents, wolves, hawks, bleeding moons, roses... Beyond the table, just a couple feet away, the balcony, with a view of the royal gardens and the little cobble path that led to the grand, glass ceilling stables.
Siareih walked closer to the table, her violet gaze digging into the colossal map, instantly finding the Yijali Palace on it and tracing every road that led north. West is not an option, she decided after thinking on it for a while. My mother has far too much military gathered by the Fourseas, with the Kyrean threat becoming more and more prominent each day.
Escaping further East isn’t a great decision either, much too close to the Palace. They’d be on her in an instant if she did escape there. Further down its only the Greatsea and the Luren Isles, the closed Republic that would never take in an outsider, full of strange creatures and laws. The Varonians wouldn’t care much for her either, the centaurs had never took an interest in the politics of other countries unless it concerned trade.
But perhaps if I make this about trade... But her pride twinged in her and she returned her attention to the map of the Ivarian Empire. North is the way, it was decided.
The plan of her retreat consumed her fully and she continued fleshing it out. If I go up this road I could hire a hundred mercenaries... And sack Northern Edrath. I will instantly gain another couple hundred soldiers and grounds for training more. With this many, I’ll easily start a campaign. I can do this. I carry the Queensmark on my forehead, I am the rightful Queen, they will follow me-
A creak in the night made her shiver suddenly, tearing her away from the map. Footsteps followed. Siareih moved closer to the balcony and felt the dagger underneath her cloak.
A gentle, almost shy knock followed. The door opened, letting in a familiar face and Siareih let out the breath that lodged in her throat.
“Ophelia, what are you doing here at such an hour?”
She was only a little younger than Siareih and yet her eyes still shone with that kind, mellow twinkle in her wide, childish eyes. Her dress was made of expensive sheer foulard that she wore right over her nightgown, a part of her hair was pinned up with intricate knots of braids, the rest fell down her shoulders in curls. Her little hands carried the cub of a snow leopard which meowed sleepily at her, the necklace on it’s neck jingling.
Instead of a reply, the girl’s face turned fearful when she saw the steel in Siareih’s hands. Noticing her hesitance, the woman quickly fixed the mistake and lowered her hand, letting the dagger slip back into the sheath.
“I couldn’t sleep tonight. I heard the guards you put at my door leave and just a couple minutes later I heard footsteps in the hallway. I got worried, that’s all.” She said, making her way across the room to sit on the silk pillows scattered in a corner.
“Ophelia, what did I tell you to do if something like this happens?” Siareih scolded, plopping by her cousin on another pillow rather ungracefully. Inside, she was celebrating. If my guards left Ophelia’s door then he obeyed me. This is it. This is victory. “What if something did happen? I had told you time and time, lock down your room and take the dagger I gave you.”
“But something did happen, didn’t it?” She asked with wide eyes, hand petting her cub that began meowing sleepily. “You have your dagger with you and you’re wondering the halls again.”
“Everything is fine my dear,” Siareih made the most honest smile she could pull off, gently setting her hand on Ophelia’s shoulder. “I couldn’t sleep tonight either. Its all because of the full moon, likely. I’ll look at the map again and then I’m going for a midnight ride to clear my mind, I’ll be back at dawn and you go to sleep, little rose.” She stood up, going to the door. “Do you want me to lead you back to your room?” She added, remembering that Ophelia was afraid of the dark.
But the girl shook her head.
“I’m not afraid with Steffan by my side. He’ll growl at the shadows and they’ll go away,” She said, lovingly looking at her animal, a little thing as childish as she was.
As soon as she left, Siareih collapsed by the table, relief and joy flooding her. The crown is mine, she thought. I’ve reached the sun, the runt is dead, she is dead.
She almost could taste the salt on her tongue.
With these thoughts, she leaped from the balcony, landing on the short-cut lawn and heading to the stables, knowing that when she returns in the morning the crown shall be hers once more.