"The Queen requests your presence." Sir Nikileri said gravely.
Riselle looked up from the edge of her bed, where she had been sitting all day. After Sir Nikileri found her in the garden, she had been confined to her bedchamber. Servants had brought her food and drink, but it had stayed untouched. From what little she could gather, Court had gone on as usual, Lilette's engagement had been announced, and Valya had seemed like her normal self.
Sniffling, Riselle rose from the bed and followed the knight to the Queen's bedchamber. Valya sat in her library nook, reading. She looked absolutely magnificent, even in her bedclothes. Upon seeing her daughter enter, she stood and embraced her. The tears started flowing again.
"Oh Mother, I'm so sorry!" She sobbed, burying her face in her mother's neck. "I'll never do it again!"
"Oh child," Valya said. She gently pulled Riselle away from her and gestured to one of the long black couches. "Please take a seat. We have to talk about some things."
Riselle sat on the nearest couch and her mother sat across from here. One of her handmaidens brought them both glass of water. Valya looked at her daughter with pity in her eyes.
"There's no easy way to say this, my daughter. You cannot stay here in the palace any longer."
Riselle's mouth dropped as Valya took a sip of water. "But…but…I'm a Princess! I'm your daughter!" A feeling of panic was rising in her chest.
"Now, now dear, settle down. We don't want another incident." Valya set the glass down. "You are my daughter and I love you, but I can't have you here in the palace. You are a hazard to others and I won't risk Lilette's life. She is the future Queen after all."
Riselle looked down at her hands in her lap. The traitors. "Where will I go?" Her voice wavered.
"Sir Nikileri has arranged passage for you aboard a ship bound for the planet of Wess. You will be given a small amount of money for shelter and food, but eventually you will need a job."
"So that's it? You're just going to send me away and never see me again?"
"We can arrange visits, darling."
"Visits? Like the kind where I come in after nightfall and leave before dawn?" Riselle asked sarcastically.
"Precisely." Valya smiled. "I think you're starting to get it now. It doesn't have to be all bad."
Riselle just shook her head, trying to process everything that was happening. "I'm only sixteen! Please Mother, don't send me away!"
"I have to, Riselle." Valya was stern. "I have no other choice. We cannot have a witch living here in the castle. Your…affliction brings shame upon our family. Can't you see that?"
"But I'm your daughter." Riselle repeated. "How can you just send me away?"
"Oh, dear, I will miss you." Valya said, concern etched on her face. "But plenty of sixteen year olds can make it on their own. I have faith in you."
"Will I still be Princess?" She asked quietly, dreading the answer.
Valya sighed. "No Riselle, you will not. You are to be stripped of your title and your inheritance. For all intents and purposes, you will be a commoner."
Riselle's heart plummeted and her breath was coming in gasps. Her life was crashing down around her and she could do nothing to stop it. She felt dizzy and light-headed. All she wanted was to crawl into her bed and never come back out again. Her mother just stared at her, not providing any sympathy or comfort.
"Your ship is leaving in an hour, dear child. You should go pack." The Queen said gently.
Riselle stared up at her mother, shocked and upset that Valya could dismiss her so easily. Not a single tear had been shed from her mother's eyes during the whole conversation. Riselle stood, feeling like she wasn't really there, that this was all happening to someone else.
"Well I should go then," She choked out. "Good-bye Mother."
"Good-bye, my darling child." Valya made no move to embrace her daughter.
The former Princess walked back to her bedchambers in a haze. Two giant suitcases sat on her bed, opened and ready for packing. She started packing her dresses and gowns, but realized that she would never need them on Wess. It was a hard planet, warm and unfriendly. Around the belt of it was a gigantic desert, which was inhabited by nomads and rogues. On the poles were dense rainforests with predators bigger than a house. Most of the people lived in the area between, which Riselle knew to be always hot, and fluctuating between dry and wet depending on the season. It sounded miserable.
She started to put the dresses back, then realized she could probably sell them for money and put them back in the suitcase. In the other, she put her boots, pants, blouses, and a few cloaks, to shield from the sand and the rain. She also packed her brush and a few hair things, mostly to hold her hair back from her face. She turned in a circle to see if she had missed anything, then grabbed the picture frame from her bed stand of her and Elimar as children. She left the one of her, Valya, and Lilette.
A few hours later, Riselle was standing the small quarters she had been assigned on the ship, watching the brilliant green and blue planet of Luminaria fade into the sea of stars through the small viewport. The tears had stopped, but Riselle still felt very sad and alone. In the matter of a day, she had gone from Princess and engaged, living in the lap of luxury, to stripped of all titles and inheritance, bound for a planet where it was very hard to eke out a living.
Wess had been a prison colony planet over a century ago, but over the years, the monarchy had started shipping all the undesirables from the planets there. Witches, beggars, thieves, rapists, murderers, and the mentally ill were just some of the kind that would be common here. Riselle couldn't understand why her mother would want to send her there, but the Queen always got what she wanted.
Another emotion she was feeling was anger. She was adamant that no matter what, she would not have sent her own daughter away, no matter what. The pain of realizing her mother didn't want her burned so much worse than the pain of being called a witch. The passengers on the ship had not been kind when she was boarding. One man had even spit on her. She didn't understand why there was so much hostility and anger directed at her. Witches were mostly just ignored in society, not hollered at. Riselle had vowed to keep to her quarters. Every few hours, a man would come around and take food orders. Normally this would cost her extra money, but everything had been prepaid for her. For this flight at least. Once Riselle stepped foot on Wess, she was on her own.
Making her way into the bathroom, she studied her reflection. Long wavy light brown hair rippled from the top of her head down to her waist, as any proper lady would have, and the swelling around her eyes had gone down a bit, making the green irises more prominent. She picked up the blade she had put there earlier, wondering if she would have the courage to do it this time. She finally just gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. The dagger swished through the air and a small lock of hair gently floated to the floor. Once the first piece had been cut, it didn't take long for Riselle to do the rest. With every bit of hair that fell away, she felt a bit better, a bit lighter, until she finally stood there in a pile of hair. Jagged pieces fell across her forehead and over the tops of her ears and the nape of her neck could feel the air upon it when she finally stopped.
Looking at herself in the mirror, she felt liberated and free. She could do this. She was Riselle of Luminaria and she would not be a sniveling little mouse, she would be strong. She would not be a demure little princess anymore, she would be an independent woman with more goals and aspirations than getting married. She could say what she wanted and do what she wanted, without having to worry about anyone yelling at her. She was free.
When the guy knocked on her door to see if she wanted anything from the kitchens, he couldn't hide the shock on his face when he saw her new look. For the first time in a long time, she was happy.
Riselle stepped off the ship with her suitcases in hand, a brown scarf wrapped around her mouth and nose. The wind kicked up around her and her face immediately started stinging as tiny sand grains flew through the air. Squinting, she made her way towards the Immigration Office barely visible one hundred feet to her right. It was a dilapidated building, barely more than a shack, made of brown stone that had been eroding for who knew how many years. Everyone from the ship was making their way here, which was about fifty people in all. The week long voyage for Riselle consisted of stops to a few different planets, where people would unload and other people would board. It was rather like public transportation, except for planets instead of cities. Riselle's stop was the wonderful city of Longhue, one of several large cities on Wess and the only one large enough for a spaceport. Longhue was situated a few hundred klicks above the equator, meaning that sand, not rain, was the norm here.
She entered the building and dusted the sand as best she could from her clothes. She was wearing a long sleeve linen shirt with a long dark brown coat over it to protect her from the sand. She had bought these items from one of the stores in the marketplace on one of the planets they had stopped by. She also had purchased a heavy pair of brown pants and a good pair of boots, which she was also wearing. Standing in line, she took a look at some of the other travelers. All were sandy and disheveled from the short walk from the ship to the building, and she knew she must look like that too. She welcomed the feeling of being dirty and mussed up. It was such a relief from trying to look perfect all the time. With her dirty face, clothing, and short hair, no one would recognize her. Hopefully.
The line moved fairly quickly and soon Riselle found herself in front of the girl at the front desk. She was a short, plump little thing, with curly auburn hair and dark brown eyes. The name on her badge read: Fay.
"Name?" She asked.
Riselle had thought long and hard about that one. The immigration offices on other planets usually required identification to go along with the name, but after asking around, she had found out that Wess was rather lax on that rule.
"Riz Common." She answered confidently. She watched as Fay typed that into an old computer. Riselle wanted her new name to represent what she was now. She was no longer Riselle of Luminaria, Princess. She was Riz Common, Citizen. Just a normal person.
"Place of birth?"
"Royal City, Luminaria."
"Well, aren't you a lucky one?" Fay said genuinely. "What made you decide to come here?"
"It wasn't really my decision." Riselle stated shortly.
"Gotcha," Fay said. "Now, are you going to need a job?"
"Okay, we have some openings right here in Longhue. I'll give you this." She placed a thin packet full of job openings on the counter in front of Riselle. "These are updated and re-printed every day, so if you need another one, you can get it free of charge. Just come back here and ask for one. Are you going to need a place to stay?"
Riselle nodded again.
"Alright, well we have a free shelter right next door where you'll probably be staying for about a week or so while you get on your feet. When you go there, just ask for Jessa. Right here is a sheet of all the rental offices in the area." The bouncy girl placed another sheet on top of the job listings. "Do you have any questions?"
"Yes. Do you have a map of the city or know where I can get one?"
"Oh! Of course!" Fay exclaimed. "How silly of me!" She grabbed a folded piece of paper from the rack behind her and added it to Riselle's pile. "There you go. Is there anything else?"
"I don't think so."
"Okay, well then, welcome to Wess! Have a nice day!"
"Thanks." Riselle picked up her suitcases and made her way to the door of the building. She didn't notice Fay staring after her, or the two boys watching her leave. The wind had died down by the time she got back outside and the sun beat down on her brow. Sunglasses, she thought. I need to get sunglasses. Looking to her right, she got her first glimpse of the city. All the buildings were made of the same eroding brown stone used on the Immigration Office, but were different heights and shapes. The pathways here didn't differ much from the surrounding ground, as it was all sand. She figured that she must have been on the main pathway through Longhue, as it continued straight between the buildings for as long as she could see. Every couple of buildings, paths broke away from the main one and wound their way through the buildings, leading to different parts of the city. Here and there, people walked on the paths, trying to get to work or just meandering along. They were all dressed in heavy brown clothing like herself. The hovercars she could see in the air were all old and beaten up and there were very few of them in the skylanes. This place was vastly different than Luminaria.
Sighing, Riselle made her way to the free shelter next door. She asked for Jessa at the front desk and a short, squat woman came to greet her. In a voice like a frog, she explained to Riselle the requirements of staying in the shelter. She could stay as long as she wanted and she would get three meals a day, but she had to do her assigned chores every day and apply to at least three jobs a week. If she didn't, she would get a violation. Three violations, and she would be kicked out, no exceptions. She brought Riselle to a room that had three beds in it. Two of the beds had clearly been slept in, but one was still neat and clean.
"That's yours." Jessa said. "Dinner is at 7 in the cafeteria. One of the other two will show you where it is."
And with that, Riselle was alone again. She set the suitcases down on the floor and plopped down on the bed, suddenly exhausted. She wasn't space lagged, because she had set the timer on her lights to the Wess - Longhue rhythm when she had first boarded the ship. But all the traveling and stress from the past week had caught up to her. She closed her eyes and was fast asleep within a minute.
"Ahhh, a newbie."
Riselle woke sometime later to two girls standing above her bed, grinning down at her. She wiped the sleep from her eyes and sat up quickly.
"Hi." She said. "I'm Riz Common."
"That's a weird name." One of the girls said. She could have only been seven or eight, with dirty blonde hair cut short like Riselle's, and dark brown eyes. The other girl, who must have been about fourteen or fifteen, shushed her. She had the same short dirty blonde hair and brown eyes. A smattering of freckles dotted her nose.
"Don't be rude." She turned back to Riselle. "I'm Sava Womer and this is my younger sister, Del."
"Nice to meet you."
Sava smiled. "It's nice to meet you too. Finally, someone with manners."
"Yeah, I'm chock full of manners." Riselle said sarcastically.
"You'll find that most people here are not. Shocking, I know."
Riselle half-grinned. "So what did you two do to wind up here?"
Sava shrugged. "Our parents died about a month ago and our grandparents didn't want to take us in." She tried to act nonchalant about it, but Riselle saw her chin wobble.
"What did you do, Riz?" Del asked, hopping up on the bed next to her and giving her older sister a chance to collect herself.
She figured she might as well come clean. "Well, I can shoot fire from my hands."
Del smiled in delight, but Sava's eyes were huge. "What?"
"I can shoot-"
"No, no, I heard what you said. But, Riz, you can't just go around telling people that here!"
"Because witches are shunned here. If you tell people that you can shoot flames from your fingers, everyone will ignore you. Forever."
Riselle snorted. "That might not be such a bad thing."
"No, it is." Sava responded gravely. "No one will sell food to you, no one will house you. You're basically left homeless and starving, and no one will lift a finger to help you."
"Why?" Riselle asked, finally understanding the seriousness Sava was trying to impress on her.
The other girl shrugged. "That's just the way it is around here. So don't tell anyone else. Del, this is a secret, do you understand?"
The young girl nodded. "Secret means that I can only talk about it with you guys and only if there's no one else around."
Sava smiled at her younger sister lovingly and Riselle felt a pang in her heart. Lilette had never looked at her like that. But then again, had Riselle ever looked at her sister that way either? Before Riselle could think about it any further, a bell rang.
"Dinner, dinner, dinner!" Del yelled as she ran out of the room. Sava smiled at Riselle and motioned for her to follow.
The dining hall was huge, and Riselle figured that there had to have been at least two hundred people there. Once she, Sava, and Del had gone through the buffet line, she followed the two sisters to a table in the back corner of the room.
"We mainly keep to ourselves here." Sava explained. "Most everyone does. Besides, it's not like you'll see most of these people again once you leave the shelter."
"Why's that?" Riselle asked as she poked at a grey slab of meat.
"Just eat it," Sava said. "It tastes better than it looks. And because some people will decide they don't like the sand and go off to one of the rainforests, or to Midway, which is halfway in between the desert and the rainforest. They have shelters like this one in all the cities here, but the transportation between the cities isn't free. Other people will just wander off into the sands and die. What?" She asked when she saw Riselle's startled face. "It's the truth. Either they decide they don't want to live, or they think they can make it on their own out there. They die regardless of the reason."
"So are guys staying here or jumping to a different city?"
"Our parents couldn't leave us much money, so Del and I are staying right here in Longhue. I'm going to find work, and once Del is old enough, she will too. Hopefully it only takes a few years before we get enough money to leave this rock. How about you?"
"Probably stay here. The other cities are all smaller anyways. That means less jobs."
"True." Sava conceded. "I've applied to a few jobs, but haven't gotten anything yet."
"What kind of jobs are there?"
"Didn't you get a packet at Immigration?"
"Yeah, but I didn't have time to look at it. I fell asleep the moment I laid down on that bed."
Sava smiled. "I don't blame you. Traveling is rough. Anyways, I applied to a few different ones, secretary, cashier, sand blaster. Nothing."
"Sand blaster? What's that?" Riselle asked.
"It's exactly what it sounds like. You blast sand away from the walls of your assigned buildings. All day, every day. Hard work, but at least I'd get paid for it."
Riselle nodded. "I'm going to look tonight for a few to apply for tomorrow."
"Yeah, Del and I get a new copy every day and go over it every night. But first, the chores have to be done."
"How do you know which chores are yours?"
"There's a chart. We'll show you after dinner."
Two boys sat down at the end of their table. Riselle hardly noticed them until they introduced themselves.
"Name's Boyly. How's it goin' lasses?"
She turned to see a skinny, dirty boy with bright red hair and mean brown eyes. The other boy was husky, with dark black hair and black eyes, who introduced himself as Daral.
"Ay, you gonna eat 'at?" Daral asked, pointing to Riselle's grey meat.
"What's it to you?" She asked. "It's on my tray."
"Oh, poppet's got a gob on 'er." Boyly said menacingly. "I think poppet should give Daral that."
"Well, you don't seem to think too much since you don't seem very intelligent." Riselle retorted fiercely.
Boyly's face turned red and he lunged for Riselle. She ducked around him, causing him to crash into the chairs and fall over. Laughter sprang up from the dinner crowd.
Cursing, he tried to get up, but was having a hard time of it. A large hand wrapped around his arm and yanked him to his feet. Riselle looked from the hand up the well-muscled arm and into a handsome face. The man who had grabbed him was about thirty-six, with black curly hair and ice blue eyes. He was tall and thin, but his arms rippled with muscles.
"Is he bothering you?" The man asked, his voice deep.
"No." Riselle said, indignant. "I was handling it myself."
The man cocked an amused eyebrow, then looked at Boyly. "Get lost kid."
Boyly glared at Riselle over his shoulder as he hurriedly exited the room. "You're in trouble now, poppet." Daral whispered as he rushed past her after his friend.
The man watched them go, then turned back to Riselle. "The name is Dack Sokalimar. Most people call me Kal though."
"I was on board the ship that came in today. Weren't you on it too?"
"Yeah, I was." Riselle said uncertainly.
"You boarded at Luminaria, right?"
"How did you know that?" She looked at him suspiciously.
Kal shrugged. "Just observant. Anyway, have a nice dinner. I expect I'll see you around." He turned and walked off. Riselle stared after him for a moment, then turned back to Sava and Del.
"Okay, that was weird." She said, but she noticed the sisters staring back at her with eyes as wide as saucers.
"Luminaria?" Sava asked. "Like, the Luminaria?"
Riselle nodded. "The Luminaria."
"Wow." Sava whispered. "So, you're really rich then, huh?"
"Did you ever see the Princesses?" Del piped up.
"Once or twice." Riselle responded, smiling at the small girl.
"I wish I was a princess." Del said. Riselle snorted.
"Don't we all, little one?" Sava said, ruffling her sister's hair. "So what was weird?"
"That guy. Dack Sokalimar."
"I thought he was really nice."
"He was. That's not what was weird. What was weird was that he knew where I got on the ship and where I got off. Almost like he was watching me." Riselle felt a pang of fear as she wondered if he knew she was the former princess. That would not be good to have that as common knowledge here.
"Well what's weird about it? Maybe he thinks you're pretty?" Sava grinned.
"Well, I cut my hair really short like this during the trip and didn't leave my room at all. It's weird he knew me."
"I'm sure it's nothing." Sava said. "Come on, Del and I will show you around a bit before bed." Riselle left the table, feeling nervous and anxious.
The girls led her to the main lobby where she had entered the shelter and showed her the chore chart there. Riselle's name had been written under Laundry A.M., which meant that Riselle had laundry duty in the morning. They then showed her where the laundry room was, as well as the kitchens, the games room, and the nursery for parents with very young children. The boys had their own separate wing in the west separate from the girls' wing in the east. The family wing lay in the back of the building and was more extensive than the other two, with two to three bedrooms in the quarters. Finally they arrived back in their room. Sava and Del curled up in the same bed as the elder read aloud from a book to the younger. Riselle busied herself with putting away her clothes from one of the suitcases into the dresser next to her bed. The suitcase with the dresses she stowed underneath her bed.
"What's in there?" Del asked. Riselle turned around, not realizing the young girl had been watching.
"Just some personal items from home." She responded quickly. "I don't plan on being here too long, so I don't want to unpack them all."
"Can we see them?"
"I'd rather not get them out, they make me emotional." She half-lied. The dresses did make her feel a little sad, as they were remnants of her former life, but she mostly didn't want to get them out because then they might recognize her as the former princess. Who else had all those lavish dresses? Not even a Lord's daughter would dress so.
"That's fine, isn't it Del?" Sava said firmly. The girl nodded, clearly a little mad she didn't get her way.
"Do we have a curfew or anything?" Riselle asked suddenly.
"No, we just have to up in time for our chores." Sava answered. "Why?"
"I feel like going for a walk." Riselle tugged on her boots and coat. "I just want to get some fresh air."
The other girl laughed. "Okay, but good luck getting fresh air out there."
Riselle smiled, then grabbed her coin purse and attached it to her belt. As much as she liked Sava and Del, she didn't know them well enough to trust them.
The air outside the building was hot and dry, with very little wind. She took a deep breath, then turned right out of the building towards the rest of the city. She had the map in her back pocket, but wanted to explore a bit for herself first.
The main pathway was wide and empty, with brown buildings on either side. Riselle passed a post office, a food store, and a bank before turning left down a small pathway in between two dark buildings. That was when they struck.
One moment Riselle was wondering which way she was going to turn at the end of the path and the next she was lying face down in the sand, her head pounding with pain. The whoops of laughter sounded very far away. A foot kicked her in her stomach and she curled up, retching and gasping for air.
"Yeah, git her Daral!" A familiar voice cried. "'At's wot she gits!" The foot came down on Riselle's fingers, hard. She screamed and a fist smacked her in the nose. "Shut up!"
Riselle's head was swimming and darkness was creeping in at the corners. She couldn't do anything but lay there as fingers untied the coin purse from her belt.
"Ay knew it! She's the princess!" Daral voice's said. "Lookit all this gold!"
"That's…mine." She whispered.
Boyly kicked sand in her face. "The next time you speak, poppet, I will cut your ear off." He leaned down close to her face, a shiny knife in his hand. Riselle mustered up all the courage she had and spat in his face. He blinked in surprise as the blood and saliva dripped down into the sand, then his expressions turned to rage. Snarling, he started to bring the knife down…and stopped. He tried again, but his arm stopped again in the same spot.
"What the…?" He said, and then he was flying backwards through the air. He tried scrabbling away but suddenly rose in the air and slammed against the stone wall. He dropped to the sand, knocked out. At the sight of his friend's lifeless body, Daral started to run away, but the same force grabbed him and slammed him into the wall as well.
Riselle watched this happen as the darkness slowly started to close in on her. The last thing she remembered before complete oblivion was the sight of a round face with curly auburn hair and brown eyes looking down at her with concern.Riselle is a Princess just trying to live up to her Mother's expectations. But once it is revealed that she has powers, she is banished. She learns of the harsh conditions of the galaxy and is given a choice: treachery or the option of coming home. How will she decide?