Brenton extends a hand out to me, and I duck out of the limo, my heels digging into the dirt floor. We are now in the kingdom of BloomsRidge, and it certainly stays true to its element with vines and flowers everywhere the eye can see. The palace of BloomsRidge stands tall, marking the kingdom as it's own.
It's beautifully crafted, and unlike the modern exterior of StromsEye's palace with it's white marble, this palace is decorated in wood and cobblestone. One would expect it to look old and nothing like a palace at all, but instead it stands strong and looks as grand as can be.
The light from the sun reflects off the windows of the palace, making spirals of color shoot out in every direction as we walk up the stone steps, and the guards on either side of the wooden doors open them for us to enter. They are expecting us.
"Queen Gerda, what a pleasure." A tall figure says from the top of the twisting oak stairs in the center of the palace, addressing my mother.
"Queen Ethne." My mother bends into a curtsy, and I follow suit, my skirts cascading all around me.
"Thank you. But there is no need for such proper introduction We are all Royalty here after all." The Queen tells mother and I, gesturing for us to get up. The Queen of BloomsRidge is quite the sight, dressed all in red, her platinum blonde curls bouncing as she descends the stairs slowly.
Behind her I can see a few other figures who I assume must be the King and the Prince, and I almost slip into another curtsy before remembering the Queens words. Coming out of the shadows next is the King, his black dress uniform and green cape looking stunning on his broad chested form. He gives a slight nod in acknowledgment, before stepping back to reveal his son.
Prince Cassius is even better looking in person, with his bright hazel eyes and dirty blonde hair he could be a supermodel. But he doesn't stand alone, and when I see who holds his hand, I almost faint in surprise. I look back at the others, their faces also wide with shock, and in the back of my mind I feel some kind of relief that it isn't just me who's confused this time.
Princess Aella stares down at us, a warm smile on her face as she grips Cassius's hand in hers. She is even more radiant than in the photos I had branded into my mind. As she walks down the curved stairs with Cassius, her light pink gown ruffles all around her, making her look like a blushing cloud, lace flowers decorate her skirts and sleeves, making it hard to look away.
When the Prince and Princess reach the ground floor, they stare at us, willing us to speak. But I don't give in, only focusing on the girl said to be my sister.
"What's this?" King Mishan asks first, gesturing to Aella and Cassius as they cling to each other affectionately.
"Well, not that it's any of your business, and we'd love it if you kept this just between us..." King Alo motions between all of us in turn, "But, my son and the Princess Aella as you can see are engaged." He explains, his voice cracking on the last word.
"Why hasn't this been on the newscasts?" Queen Pele asks, stealing the exact thought from my mind.
"Because, we wanted to keep this just between us for the time being. My son and Princess Aella have been a private couple for quite some time, and we are still sorting out the wedding preparations. Plus, your wedding is coming soon and we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves, that would have been rude. Wouldn't it now?" He says, a smug look on his face. And we all fall silent.
"What about the heir to the throne? What will happen to your kingdom?" My mother asks, and we all look back at the king expectantly, but this time it's not the king who answers.
"We are well aware of the consequences of the action of marrying another Royal without a sibling to carry on the throne for the one kingdom losing their first born heir. But this does not concern you, and besides, it is exactly what you are dealing with, is it not?" The Queen breathes heavily, and time itself seems to stop as she glares at each one of us, before retreating to stand by her husbands side.
"Well, don't just stand there. Come in." King Alo gestures us farther inside the palace with a wave of his hand, his harsh demeanor falling away to the happy King as seen on the broadcasts. Mother and father follow Queen Pele and King Mishan as they glide over to chat with the King and Queen of BloomsRidge, as if the whole encounter we had just experienced had never happened.
From the corner of my eye I see Princess Aella and Prince Cassius approach us, and I reach for Brenton's hand, not wanting to be alone for this.
"It's nice to meet you both." Prince Cassius greets us, and he bows his head to both of us in respect. We do the same, and he smiles widely at us.
"You have a wonderful home." I tell him, glancing up at the oak carved ceiling branching up into an arc in the center.
"Thank you." The Prince answers, wrapping an arm securely around Aella's waist, and I can tell that these two are truly in love, and aren't being forced into a marriage like Brenton and I are. Aella is 16, and Cassius 24, but as in the storybooks, age does not matter in true love. It just matters that you truly love your soulmate, and that they truly love you back. My eyes wander to Brenton with these thoughts, and I blink my eyes willing my swirl of emotions to disappear.
"So, how did you guys meet?" Brenton joins the conversation, as an awkward silence begins to cloud over us. Both Aella and Cassius look relieved by the conversation starter, and I can't help but feel a warmth start to spread in the pit of my stomach as well.
"It was four years ago, I was on a Royal tour to BloomsRidge, and as soon as I met him..." Aella trails off. "I knew he was the one." She finishes softly, and I notice Brenton stiffen beside me.
"How about you? How did you meet?" Cassius starts, clearly asking Brenton and I, but his eyes still on Aella.
"We were introduced in the same way you were." Brenton lies, and I smile weakly beside him. If they can see through our lie they don't show it. Instead, they lead us to the back of the palace, and we all collapse on the wide couch of what I assume is their lounge.
"Where is the Queen and King of AirDale?" Brenton asks, directing his question to Aella. She doesn't crumble under the weight of his stare as I would have, but answers his question with just a stare. The answer's clear as day, they have better things to do than supervise their daughter and her betrothed. Besides, they've been dating for four years! That's four years longer than we've been dating. And even now, I wouldn't call this exactly dating Brenton.
We are to be wed to save as many people possible. And that is all there is to it.
My Royal chambers in the palace of BloomsRidge is across the hall from Brenton's, and Aella's is right next to mine, Cassius's right across from hers, in not a "love triangle," but rather a "love square."
My oak framed bed is surrounded by a canopy of blue flowers, grown specifically for my liking. And the scent calms me down quickly. This whole situation is crazy! Not only my Kingdom will fall, but also Aella's if she really goes through with her marriage to the Earth Prince, which I can see she fully intends to.
And not only that, but just the fact that the four chosen heirs to the thrones of the four elements, are all marrying one another. This crams it's way into my already full mind, and I collapse onto my bed, wishing that I could have just a minute of peace all to myself. I lay on my back, staring up at the ceiling above me while I try to sort out my life.
My dress pools all around me, and I have to pat it down roughly to keep it from rising to my knees. In the corner is my own bathroom and closet, and there's also a dresser in the corner, like the one back at StormsEye's palace. I rest my head down on my fluffy pillow, staring out the window right by my bed intently. It faces a long bubbling lake, and I resist the urge to reach out to the water.
I can almost feel the water dancing on the tips of my fingers, but I can't risk that type of strength. Not here. Quickly, I turn my back to the water, and get up off the bed, my dress collapsing to the floor, and I start out of my room. I just need some air, I think to myself slowly. My heels echo across the palace, and I try to move slowly as to not attract any attention to myself.
"What are you doing?" Someone asks from behind me, and I jump back, turning quickly. Aella faces me, her hair in intricate braids all along her head. She looks at me expectantly, waiting for my answer.
"I need fresh air." I motion towards the balcony across the room, and I watch as Aella nods, walking to my side. We continue on together, not talking.
"I understand that." I hear her say from beside me as she opens the doors to the balcony elegantly. "Happens to me all the time. Of course I can control air, so..." She giggles, as we walk to the edge of the balcony together. She understood the feeling of being trapped? The pressure of the kingdom and everyone watching on her shoulders?
We may be more alike than I thought, I tell myself. But still, I can't believe that this girl in front of me is my sister. It just doesn't seem real, even though I've known this for a few days already. I wish I could have known her my whole life, I wish I could have had a friend through all the long depressing day's of my life. But instead, she had to become the Princess of air, and I, the Princess of water.
Growing up in the same world, but never together. Never knowing each other existed. I wish I could take back all those years and do something about it. But there's still nothing I could have done to prevent growing up without the sister I needed, and I now have right beside me. My parents made sure of that.
"How's your wedding coming along?" She asks, twirling a strand of brown-blonde hair around her finger, and staring off into the distance as the sun sets all around us, casting a beautiful blend of colors into the horizon.
"Ok." I grimace, and Aella laughs at my pained expression. My eyes glide over to her ring finger, and I am quick to notice her intricate rose gold flower encrusted band, with both a light pink and emerald green stone in the center wrapped around each other in what imitates a tight embrace. It looks similar to my ring, as it should.
Two Royals getting married is a cause for the best engagement ring money can buy, the jewels in the center both representing each element coming together as one. As a little girl, I always thought it was so romantic, but now I know better than to fall into that trap. The trap that is to trust someone with your heart, as I have never done before. It's too easy for it to break, and even though I have never experienced this personally, I am determined to never have to.
"Planning a wedding is such a boring hobby. I don't know how anyone can stand it!" Aella shakes her head back and forth, and I laugh at her silly expression.
"It truly is if I am to be honest. But please don't tell my mother." I whisper to her, and as soon as the words are out of my mouth, I wish I didn't say them. Not because there's anything wrong with them, but because I had said "My mother." When in truth, she is both Aella's and my mother.
"Don't worry. Your secrets safe with me." Aella grins happily, and I can't ignore the sinking sensation in my stomach. She has no idea. And I have to be the one to tell her. The one to turn her whole life upside down, as it did mine.