The Low Creedite Lands
Staring absently at my reflection, my mind reared with all the possible ways these next weeks could unfold. With the High Crystal Princes now of age, I was to spend three weeks in the High Lands with them. The tradition was old, dating back centuries when there were still multiple Human kingdoms, but it had kept the Lands at peace.
Today should be a day of celebration. It was the princes’ birthday and the start of the competition. The royal families of all the High and Low Lands with a daughter of the same age range were invited. There would be dancing until one's feet gave out. Drinking until a straight line was impossible to walk. Laughter and delight, a night to be forgotten yet remembered.
But my stomach was set in a knot. Today would be the start of something much bigger than myself, and I didn’t know if I was ready. I wanted to believe I was, but it didn’t make me any less frightened.
A chance like this only presented itself once, and I would be a fool not to take it. The High Crystal Kingdom was the highest in our ranking, and a marriage alliance with either of the princes would prove unimaginable wealth for my kingdom. Being the princess of the last surviving Human kingdom on the brink of poverty, it was my duty to seize this opportunity.
Even with the alliance of the Low Fluorite Lands, my people were still short on many things. I smiled to myself at the thought. My grandmother met my grandfather like that, actually. The Elven prince had come of age and my grandmother had won his affection over that of many others. I wondered if history would repeat itself.
A knock sounded, snapping me from my thoughts. I turned to find my father—the Low Creedite King—standing in the door opening. He smiled as he stepped into my bedchambers. “How are you feeling, Sweetheart?”
“A bit uneasy,” I said, standing up from my seat. “It will be the first time I’ll be so long away from home.”
Father chuckled, placing his large hand onto my shoulder. “How am I going to survive without you around?”
“You have mother.”
Raising his finger, he touched my nose. “You are far more precious to me.” He smiled fondly before quickly adding, “Don’t tell your mother.”
Laughing into my hand, I watched my father’s eyes light up. He was getting older by the day, the crown visibly weighing down on him. Although he never shared his concerns about the kingdom I knew he had them. I often caught him wandering the halls at night, unable to sleep. If this marriage could bring some peace to his mind I’d gladly sacrifice my freedom to a male I did not know.
“We’ll be leaving soon, make sure you are ready by then.” Squeezing my shoulder, he shot me one last reassuring smile before turning to leave.
Facing my mirror once more, I picked up my brush. First impressions meant everything, especially as a Human entering the Fae Lands. If I wasn’t noteworthy enough with my natural looks, I had to make up for it with the skills I did possess.
Dipping my brush in the brightly pigmented powders set out in front of me, I started applying them to my lids. Playing around with different shades of blue, I created a soft gradient that blended into my skin in the most natural way possible. Taking a tiny brush, I dipped it into a little concoction that consisted of silvery powder and oils. With it, I outlined my eyes before dotting on little stars that represented the constellation under which the two brothers were born.
The gown complimented it, being that of a dark blue at the bottom that slowly lightening until it was a bright white at the top. The gems that were scattered all over it much like stars as well, though none of them formed a particular constellation.
Grinning at my reflection, I pulled back my shoulders and raised my chin. Either way, tonight I would be turning heads, for what reason they could figure out themselves.
The trip from the Low to the High Lands was long and tiring. To convenience travelers from the Low to the High, there were magical shortcuts, but even with those, by the time we arrived the sun had already started to set. Right on time.
Pushing aside the curtain, I gazed out of the tiny window. The High Lands were known for their extraordinary and magical environment, and although I had seen it a few times as a child, I hadn’t expected it to be even more breathtaking as I remembered.
Flowers climbed the trees until it was completely covered and bloomed out from between the branches. The leaves were as bright a green as anyone could imagen. The sun that usually only visited the Low Creedite Lands every few days casted an orange glow over us as it sunk behind the horizon, allowing the night to take over with the promise of a starlit sky.
Our carriage slowed as we got closer to the palace, being held back by the other guests. Most were bigger and far more elegant then ours was, but it was to be expected. At times it was easy to forget how low we actually stood, even within the Low Land ranking.
“Liliya,” my mother said, pulling my attention away from the window. She looked down at me, taking me in as if seeing me for the first time. It was often like that. “We won’t be staying long.”
I turned to fully face her, my brow drew together. “Why?”
A chestnut-brown stand fell from her braid, which she pushed back behind her ear. “Your father and I decided it wouldn’t be wise to stay longer than needed. The last time we were away from the kingdom longer than a day bandits ransacked the palace. We can’t afford such a loss again.”
My heart sank, but I understood what she meant. It did not make the way she brought it hurt any less, however. “Does it really not matter that I will be gone for three whole weeks?”
My father placed his hand on my knee. “Of course it does, that’s why we are seeing you off. We’ll dance and laugh and make sure you are comfortable. What kind of parents would it make us if we just abandoned you there?”
I smiled at my father, placing my hand over his. He was right, they did far more than I could have asked for. Being away from the palace for half a day was already a risk. The people were desperate for comfort in any form it came. Whether it was a warm meal or a blanket for the cold nights. If it came at the cost of breaking into the palace and steal some jewelry so be it.
Meeting my mother’s gaze, I could not keep it for long. The way she looked at me still made me shiver every now and then. Ever since I was young there had been a distance between us, and each time I tried to win her affection, she would disregard it with a wave of her hand. I couldn’t remember the last time she genuinely smiled at me. By now I had gotten used to it.
Returning my gaze to the window, I watched as the royals of the other kingdoms were announced to the High Crystal King and his two sons. The three males stood tall on the steps that led the palace that was about three times the size as ours back home.
The pure Fae blood was apparent in their features. The king stood with the confidence of a leader with years of respect and experience. The princes, on the other hand, had their chin held high and their backs straight, as if in the need to prove they were to respected equally as their father. Both elegance and strength reflected in their stance, though the oldest of the two seemed to put in a little more effort than the youngest.
Prince Daneel, the firstborn and heir to the throne, looked down at the guests much like my mother did when looking at me. His full lips were curved into a pleased smile as his piercing blue eyes observed. A silver crown rested on his midnight-black hair, which was braided back into a fishtail that ended mid-waist.
It was common for Fae of high statuses to grow out their hair, representing how they did not have to worry about it getting caught.
Then, my eyes shifted to the youngest, Prince Lian. As he watched the guests, he did not smile, only nodding politely. Standing the slightest bit taller than his brother, his silvery-white hair stopped just above his shoulder blades, untied. On to of his head stood a pair of majestic antlers, encircled by a golden crown similar to that of Daneel.
Most Forest Fae preferred to hide their antlers or horns as they could be inconvenient in small spaces. They were often easy to maintain, having to only be filed down every few days. But the way with which Lian carried them was pride, making it clear he wasn’t planning on clipping them down any time soon.
Standing between his sons, the king puffed his chest. Although a few centuries older than my father could ever become, he had aged much like a fine wine. The once sharp-featured that both his sons shared with him were still apparent, even with the occasional wrinkle that marked his skin.
Only two other carriages were left in front of us. The closer we had come, the more apparent it had become how different the two sons were dressed. While Daneel wore deep, dark blue colors with silvery embroidery, Lian was dressed in soft crème-white with golden embellishments. The decorative pieces that adorned their long, pointed ears matched their crowns. Their clothing was perfectly fitted to their figure as well, which I could very much appreciate.
Sitting back again, I reminded myself why I was here. Even if they looked down on me, even if everyone I had to fight against did, I would not leave empty-handed. I would leave a mark, an unforgettable impression. I would make allies and get what I needed for my people to thrive.
“One last thing, Liliya,” my mother said. “Try not to attract too much attention to yourself. We don’t need any more trouble between other Lands because you couldn’t control your artistic desires.”
“Yes, mother.” I bowed my head, fiddling with my dress. The warning wasn’t one out of the blue, and for once I could agree with her that perhaps I should take a step back on that front. Although I loved painting my own lids, I thoroughly enjoyed painting on others even more. There was a reason I hadn’t had a personal maid since I was fourteen.
As our carriage came to a stop, the door was swung open. I was a bit surprised to find no servant on the other side, instead, the familiar buzz of Pixie magic as one of them took my hand and helped me out. I smiled at the small, colorful and slightly transparent being. It was curious to see, having only read of this custom in the High Lands.
Royalty only accepted servants of their own kind who were from a lower family than themselves. Most Fae were too proud to be even a servant to the royal family and therefore made deals with the Pixies to serve them instead.
Approaching the grand stairs leading up to the palace, I made a small bow before the king and the princes. “Princess Liliya of the Low Creedite Lands,” I said, clasping my hand behind my back.
“Welcome, Princess Liliya,” Prince Daneel said, a playful glint in his eyes he looked me over, his grin widening. “I’m already looking forward to getting to know you.”
“So am I.” I nodded my head at him before turning to look at Prince Lian. His soft, blue eyes met mine, but he didn’t speak. After what felt like a second too long to be considered polite, he nodded his greeting and looked away.
I opened my mouth to say something but thought better of it. The moment I entered the grand palace my breath was taken from me. Carved wood decorated the walls with stories of adventure, mystery, love, and whatnot. It was the history of the Crystal family, the many kings, and queens that had come before, leaving open spaces for the ones that were to come after.
Where most families remembered their ancestors by paintings, the Crystal family made their home in their own history. Another reason why the palace was so much larger. Each time a new member would be crowned, the previous reign would be added to the architecture.
I twirled around, taking in every little detail, drowning in the perfection of each curve. The golden chandeliers cast perfect light on each story, the ones with slaughter and pain cast in shadows while that of the birth of a new heir was cast in light. I imagined walking these halls endlessly these next three weeks and never tire of what I could see.
My father placed a hand on my shoulder, pulling me back to reality. “Sorry, father,” I mumbled as heat came to stain my cheeks red.
However, instead of scolding me he held out his hand expectantly. “May I have this dance?”
“You may,” I said as I accepted his hand. He led me to the ballroom where the music was already playing and other royals were already dancing. We started to sway to the music, and I tried to print the image of my father’s adoring gaze into my mind.
Once he and mother left, I would be on my own, and my journey would begin.