The room was unfathomably hot, the twin suns were beating relentlessly through the fragile glass windows of the Queens sitting room. I could feel sweat prickling between my shoulder blades, and the first thought that crossed my mind was that the sweat would ruin my dress. It was shallow of me, but the dress was new and a gift. The heat was also intensifying the Queens Lavender perfume which she must have applied by the bucket loads, for it was burning my eyes and making me lightheaded.
I flickered a quick glance at the girl kneeling on the floor next to me, her fiery red hair was plastered to her neck in damp curls and she looked just as uncomfortable as I felt. Which she should, since she was the reason we were in this mess.
The Queens skirt rustled and I quickly returned my gaze to the floor in front of me. I shifted uncomfortably, besides being hot, sweaty and on the edge of fainting, the floor was biting sharply into my knees. Since I had been gazing at nothing but the floor since I was brought in here I knew there was a carpet under me, but it was so worn I could see the stone floor in spots. It was like everything in the Queens rooms, beautiful but worn, artifacts from a day that Elves and Humans were united.
The Queen stopped her pacing in a whoosh of silk right in front of me. I didn’t need to look up to know her pale blue eyes were looking down at me with intense dislike.
“Rise Alia.” Her voice was somehow melodious and cold at the same time.
I bristled internally as I somehow managed to rise to my feet despite my shaking knees. The Queen had dealt me an insult by leaving off my title but I had learned a long time ago the best way to deal with the Queen was to act as if nothing bothered you. Pushing my irritation back I raised what I hoped was a blank face.
Queen Lillianna was a tall woman and I had to tilt my head uncomfortably back to look into her eyes. Despite the heat in the room she was picture of cool elegance, dressed in a blue that matched her eyes, her silk day dress clung to her willow thin frame belieing the fact she had borne three children. With a lineage that could be traced to a long gone Elvin court, she would have fit right in with the tapestries on her walls with her sharp facial features and silver blonde hair which she was wearing severely pulled back in a bun.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” Her eyes burned into mine as if she could see into the deep reassess of my soul and she didn’t like what she saw.
“We meant no harm.” I replied softly, it was always good to speak softly when the Queen was this upset.
“I always knew bringing you into our home would cause a problem, you have been nothing but trouble since the day you arrived.” Her voice rose steadily as she stepped closer and I had to fight the urge to step back.
“Oh mother! It wasn’t even Alia’s idea and anyway we were going to give the list back to the Chancellor before the party” Princess Beatrice exclaimed as she jumped to her feet.
“It is not your turn.” The Queen snapped at her daughter.
Princess Beatrice sunk slowly back to her knees, turning her sympathetic eyes to me.
“Of course my own daughter would stick up for you, as will the King.” She leaned in till I could feel her breath on my ear “I know the poison you spread through my family and one day the King will not be able to protect you.” Her voice was low meant only for me and I gulped as she stepped back. The Queen and I had always had an estranged relationship if it could even be called that, but this was the first time she had ever threatened me. Something had changed but I wasn’t quite sure what.
“What should I do with the two of you?” she asked calmly as if she didn’t just threaten me.
I wisely kept my mouth shut and shot a glare at Princess Beatrice when her mouth opened. She had a habit of acting before thinking usually landing us in worse trouble.
“If I had it my way I would ban you from the Masquerade tonight.”
For a moment I almost lost the ability to keep my mouth shut, needless to say Princess Beatrice did.
“You can’t do that!” She cried as she once again jumped to her feet, her green eyes flashing in defiance.
“You do not tell me what to do, I am your mother and the Queen of Gavendale.” Gone was the Queens cool demeanor as her face turned a rather unattractive shade of red.
Catching Princess Beatrice’s eye from behind the Queen I shook my head frantically at her. The Queen wouldn’t be able to ban us from the party if the King didn’t agree, unless we pushed it too far and I was fairly sure a physical altercation with Queen would be pushing it. Princess Beatrice gave me slight nod as she turned back to her mother.
“I am very sorry mother, I don’t know what came over me.” she sank back to the floor the picture of contriteness though I could see her hand flex into a fist within the folds of her dress.
“I’m sure I know the reason.” The Queen turned cold eyes to me as if I was the puppet master to her daughter’s outburst.
“The King would be so disappointed if his two favorite girls weren’t able to attend tonight.” Her voice was just as cold before but there was an underlining tone to it and it sounded like jealousy to me.
I held my breath as the Queen started pacing again. This Masquerade would be the first that Princess Beatrice and I would be attending since we turned 16 a few months ago. The King had deemed us ladies of the realm and as ladies we were able to attend all the parties we were too young to attend before. It was an honor I didn’t want to lose over one little prank.
“So instead you are banned from riding until I say.” She smiled as if she just gave us the best news.
“But mother!” Princess Beatrice started to argue but a scathing glare form the Queen quickly quieted her.
“You are dismissed Alia, I must have a word with my daughter” she waved a hand dismissively in my direction.
I sketched a hasty curtsy, gave Princess Beatrice a sympathetic look then hurried from the room. Out in the hall the air was considerably cooler and I leaned eagerly against the cool stones. Inside I could hear the Queen scolding Princess Beatrice and I was thankful the Queen didn’t deem me important enough to waste more words than were necessary. It had been that way ever since I had arrived 10 years ago, an orphan, my father killed in a goblin raid against our keep. The King and my father had grown up together, fought several wars side by side and shared a brotherhood that had nothing to do with blood and everything to do with loyalty. Without delay the King had taken me in and gave me to the tender care of the Queen as he went to fight the goblin invasion. I remember the first time I saw the Queen, her blue eyes gazing down at me in distaste, and it wasn’t till years later I learned she and my father hadn’t cared for each other. The Queen quickly sent me to broken down part of the castle, with one surely nursemaid who didn’t seem to care if I was fed or cleaned. It was quite by accident that when the King returned months later he came through the side garden I had taken to playing in, since the Queen never came to it. He had stared at me for several minutes before he recognized me, I’m guessing it was because I was covered in months of dirt. There had been a fury in his eyes that at the time had scared the 6yr old me until I found out it wasn’t directed at me. With gentle hands he had lead me into the castle and I waited in the hall as he talked to the Queen. I could hear every word that was said that day.
“Why is the daughter of my dearest friend as filthy as a beggar and playing alone in the gardens?” The Kings voice was deceptively calm.
“I gave her a nurse maid and a room. I do not have the time to check on her whereabouts all the time.” The Queens voice was also calm but there was also a tinge of defiance to it.
“And where, my sweet wife, is her room?”
There was silence as the King waited for her answer.
“Well?” The Kings voice was no longer calm but know had the firm control of a King waiting for an answer.
“She was given a spacious room in the west part of the castle”
Something large crashed to the floor and I had cringed against the wall.
“You gave her room in a part of the castle that could fall into the sea at any time?” He bellowed.
“Where do expect me to put her? In the rooms by our children? We know nothing of her mother.” The Queens voice rose with her indignation “She could have been a whore for all we know and I will not have that child ruining ours.”
The smack of a hand across a check echoed through the hall.
“You will not talk about that innocent child like that, nor will you tarnish the former Duke of Raventhorns name. You will move her to the rooms next to our daughters, she will be raised with all the all the privileges that befit her ranking. Am I understood?” His voice was back at a reasonable tone but there was a coldness to it that caused me to shiver.
“As you will, my King” The Queens voice was soft barely audible in the hall.
My life at the castle changed dramatically after that day. I was moved to a much safer side of the castle next to Princess Beatrice and was given a rather thorough bath. As soon as Princess Beatrice and I met we became inseparable. We were as different in attitude as we were in looks. She was loud and reckless with a mischievous streak that often landed us both in trouble. I tended to be more restrained knowing my place at the castle rested on the Kings goodwill and the Queen would love to have me out on the streets.
I was jolted out of the past by Princess Beatrice bursting from the Queens room. Her face was red with fury as she slammed the door behind her.
“That woman is completely frustrating!” She snapped as she stormed off down the hall barely waiting for me to catch up with her.
“Well, now we know where you get it from.” I replied lightly as I caught up with her.
She turned her green eyes on me, they were still stormy but a smile twitched at the edge of her lips.
“At least I have a sense of humor.” She snipped back but already I could see her bad mood lifting.
That was how Princess Beatrice was, quick to anger, quick to smile.
“I just don’t understand why she dislikes you so much.” Her dark red brows drew together as she looked over at me.
I shrugged delicately as we turned the corner.
“Not everyone is going to like me, no matter how hard you try to make them.” I answered back.
Princess Beatrice had always been my protector, shielding me from the harsh words of her mother and other royals who didn’t understand why I was in the Kings good graces.
“Well they should. You are sweet, beautiful and have far more patients than I ever had.” She replied with conviction as she grabbed onto my hand.
Before I could say another word Princess Beatrice started to drag me down the hall. I found it hard to keep up with her much longer legs but I had to or she probably would have dragged me. Several people called out in alarm as they dove out of the way, but it didn’t slow her down. By the time she stopped I was gasping for breath, the bodice of my dress was not meant for deep breathing.
“What are you doing?” I gasped as I leaned against the wall.
Her eyes twinkled mischievous as she caught her breath.
“I heard some interesting news today.” She replied cryptically as she swept a stray curl from her forehead.
“What could you have heard that had you drag me to this end of the castle?” I straightened up and looked around.
My eyes narrowed as I took in the smooth gray walls that opened out into a courtyard. Gavendale castle was unique in many ways. First it was its own island. Built hundreds of years ago, it was well protected on all sides by the sea and steep cliff walls. One bridge linked castle to land which could be retracted in case of invasion. The castle had many open areas for gardens but only one was this large, large enough to hold the King’s guards and horses. There was only one reason either one of us would come to this side of the castle. Kyro.
I tried to school my features to polite blandness even though my heart beat shot up.
“I heard a certain rumor that the Captain of the Guard has come back from his mission.” Her voice was almost singsong as she stepped out the balcony.
I followed her out. The balcony wrapped around the whole courtyard giving a perfect ariel view of the guards when they were training. Below us hundreds of guards filled the court yard making a circle around two men facing off. One was slight, dark in coloring, an obvious foreigner among the tall fair colored people of Gavendale. The other was a figure I knew well, one I had been coming down here secretly to watch for years. He was tall, well-muscled, skin tan from hours of practicing in the sun. His hair was a fiery red, the same shade as the Princess that stood beside me.
Kyro had two swords in his hands, like nothing I had ever seen before. They were slimmer than the broadswords that the guards usually used. A pale silver color, they curved wickedly, the sun shining off the blades. The smaller man brandished a staff that he whirled with lightning quickness around his body. Guards pressed in on the circle, several yelling words of encouragement to Kyro, others making bets. Kyro gave a twist of his wrist sending the blades twirling as he started to circle the other man. The smaller man struck first, his staff rising and falling so quickly it was a blur. Kyro blocked it just as quickly with a quick cross of his swords.
From there the fight was so quick I could barely make out what was happening. I held my breath each time the staff came down but Kyro blocked it every time his swords spinning just as quickly. I wasn’t sure how long the fight lasted, but at the end there was no winner both men called a tie. They slapped each other good naturally on the back and as the crowd dispersed and I finally released the breath I had been holding.
“It seems my brother has been learning new things on his trip.” Princess Beatrice’s face glowed with pride.
Princess Beatrice and Kyro were only half siblings. Kyro was the Kings Bastard, second oldest of the Kings children. The King was proud of Kyro, never denied him and gave him every opportunity he could. Kyro didn’t squander any of it, but learned everything he could and had his eyes set on being a guard since he was a young boy. That was how we met, while he was out on a training mission. It was fate really that crossed our paths. When my fathers keep had come under attack we had gone through the tunnels underneath that lead out to the forest. He had put me onto his newest War charger with a letter to the King. I barely had a chance to say goodbye before he had slapped the horses rear sending me into the dark of night alone. For days I had clung to the back of that horse till I became so weak and dehydrated that I finally lost consciousness and fell off. I found out later it was the horse that lead Kyro back to me, he had been in the forest gathering wood for the night fire when he saw Grendall. Kyro had tried to grab Grendall reigns but the war charger stayed just out of reach slowly leading Kyro back to my unconscious body. I awoke to water being poured between my lips and opened my eyes to see the most beautiful green eyes looking down at me. From that day on I had worshiped him, it had started out as childish adoration but had turned to more the older I got. I was now in a full blown crush.
“Yes he is very skilled with his swords.” I answered politely but inside my heart was beating erratically as my eyes stayed on Kyro as he cleaned his swords off.
“I’m sure he is very skilled especially with one sword in particular.” Princess Beatrice replied wickedly as she followed my gaze.
“Trice!” I replied shock at how bold her words had been.
“Maybe I should tell him how much you admire his skill,” She made a move to go down the stairs and I quickly grabbed her arm.
“Don’t you dare.” I hissed as I pulled her back into the hall and out of sight of the training grounds.
She rolled her eyes as she jerked away from me.
“Why not? You have been following him around with big puppy eyes since you came here.” She turned to me her face serious “You’re young, beautiful and he would be crazy to deny you.”
I could feel my face turn red as I looked out towards the court yard. Below somewhere was the object of our conversation, sweat glistening of bare skin, not knowing that my heart was constantly aching for him.
“He will never see me that way.” I replied with a sigh leaning against the wall “He treats me like a little sister or worse, like a little girl who can’t take care of herself.”
“Maybe you need to make him see you as the woman you are.” She leaned next to me and I could almost see the inner workings of her mind as she chewed her lip in thought.
“Well the seduction of the Captain of the Guard will have to wait for another day.” I replied finally, I really didn’t want her to hurt herself trying to come up with a plan and anyways we had a party to get to.
“Yes, but first thing after the masquerade.” She replied back as she shoved off the wall the smile back on her face. “Besides we can’t be late for our first party.”
With a swirl of Green and red she was off down the hall. I gave one last yearning glance towards the balcony before I followed her.