When I was young, I used to wait for Night. I would watch as Her twisting fingers crawled across the land, smothering it with darkness. Night never offered me Her protection, the protection of sleep, for She did not know I was there to protect. At night when others embraced Her protection and slept, the demons came. They pulled and prodded at my own demons, enticing me to join their cause, join their cause and gain the power to punish those who had wronged me. Again and again the demons came, and again and again I would call for Night’s protection, but every morning I retreated from another sleepless night.
Young and naïve as I was, I knew right from wrong. Every night the demons tormented me, and every night I resisted. But I was merely a child; I was not strong enough to withstand their torture forever, and the demons knew it. So they invested their time and energy in hiding me from Night, awaiting a time when they wouldn’t need to.
One night, when I was expecting certain defeat, Night slipped through the demons’ protection and found me. The last words I spoke that night were words of defiance, and then the quiet of sleep enveloped me.
That morning, I awoke with a resolution. Never again would the demons torment me, never again would I fear defeat. I was free of the demons, and foolish enough to believe that the freedom would last.
“Aelia, your father wants to see you.” Said my mother as I walked into the room. Her back was turned away from me.
“Did he say why, mother?” I asked.
“No.” She replied, and that was when I noticed that her voice was strange.
“Hm?” She sniffed.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“It is unimportant right now. Go talk to your father.” She replied.
I went into my father’s throne room and curtsied.
“Aelia.” He greeted.
“What was it you wished to speak to me about?” I asked.
His face darkened.
“Aelia, you know that the kingdom must go to a male heir.” He stated.
“Why of course, that is why mother is pregnant with…” I then realized why mother had been crying in the other room. I gasped and felt my own eyes water.
“Your mother is growing older, and she will not be able to bear a child for much longer. With the loss of this boy, your marriage is the only thing that can possibly enable this bloodline to go on.” He replied, a cold shell on the outside hiding his deep pain on the inside.
“The sorcerers have confirmed that the boy is… dead?” The word caught in my throat.
For a moment, Father’s pain showed through, but then his face went back to the cold mask it had been.
“And I must marry?” I asked, my voice thick.
“Yes. You are fourteen now, and you are old enough for a husband.”
“Then am I to assume that you have already found a suitor?” I asked, wiping my eyes.
“There are only five that are acceptable young men, but we think you should choose.” He replied softly.
“Thank you, Father.” I said, smiling slightly through my tears. His face softened.
“You may go.” He said.
* * * * *
That night I tossed and turned on my bed, resisting Night’s hold and wondering why this had happened. The day before had been my fourteenth birthday, and one of the most enjoyable days of my life. It only made sense that the next day would be horrible.
It made sense but it wasn’t fair. Perhaps this was what it was like for all girls that were fourteen. I had often been told that when one turns fourteen, they were grown up and that life became serious. Perhaps this was what they had meant? Perhaps this was going to be the worst year of my life, headed by the best day. My only question was whether it would all go downhill from that point, or if it would gradually become better.
As I pondered what would happen, Night’s grip caught hold, and I slept. I didn’t dream, for I never dreamt, but my mind had always seemed to work things out as I slept; when I woke up, my mind had accepted the horrible truth. My unborn little brother was dead, and the only way that our bloodline, and, in turn, our kingdom, could survive was for me to marry one of five acceptable men. I had wanted to wait until I was at least fifteen to marry, longer than that if possible, but I no longer had a choice; I was going to meet my future husband in only two days, and I could accept it.
Breakfast that morning was a silent affair. Mother seemed as though she was in shock, and Father spent the whole time cautiously examining Mother and me to see if we were all right.
When I finished my breakfast, I went for a walk outside. That was when I met Aiden.
Aiden was a girl my age, and she was one of the few children my age whose parents worked for mine. All the other employees were mostly single, or had children that were older than me.
“Hello!” I heard a cheery voice call. As I looked around, I saw a girl up in one of our oak trees.
“Hello.” I called back, wondering how she had gotten up there.
“What’s your name?” The girl asked.
“Aelia.” I replied.
“Oh,” The girl said, hopping down from the tree. “So you’re the princess.”
“Yes.” I said politely.
“I’m Aiden. My father’s one of the sorcerers.”
“Nice to meet you, Aiden.” I said, smiling.
“Nice to meet you, too, your highness.” She said, turning around to climb back up into the tree.
“Come on up!” She said as I watched her swing her legs up from branch to branch.
“I… I don’t know how.” I admitted. She froze on the branch and looked at me in shock. I blushed.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to teach you.” She said, grinning and dropping back down again. “But that can wait till later, let’s have some fun now.”
“That sounds good to me.” I said.
“If it sounds good to you, then it sounds good to me!” Aiden said.
“Come on. You know how to swim, right?” She asked.
“A little.” I said, becoming ashamed of all the things that I couldn’t do that she probably could.
“No matter. That I’ll teach you how to do today.” She said, walking towards the river.
Learning to swim well was very fun, and it helped me forget my situation for a while. At the end of the day, I was better than most people, which was still not very good, but it was a great improvement.
“Aiden?” I asked as we got out of the river.
“Yeah?” She was wringing out her hair and her clothes.
“Tomorrow will you teach me how to climb trees?” I asked.
She grinned widely.
We said our temporary farewells and then parted ways as she went to the servant’s quarters and I hurried to my royal bedchamber to change and return to the dining hall for our mid-day meal.
“Aelia, why is your hair wet?” My mother asked as I sat down.
“Oh, I went… swimming.” I didn’t know how she would react; I had never gone swimming without an adult who could swim well with me. Her eyes widened.
“Was there an adult with you?” She asked.
“Well, no, but there was a servant girl my age who could swim very well with me.” I replied.
“What was her name?” My mother asked urgently.
“I…” I didn’t know if Aiden would get in trouble.
“I don’t know.” I fibbed. She paled.
“You went swimming with someone who you didn’t even know if you could trust?” She said.
“I didn’t say that, I said—”
“You said that you didn’t know her name, but if you didn’t even know her name, what could you possibly know about her?” She asked.
“Sorry, mother.” I replied, hoping that she would leave it at that. She did.
* * * * *
After our mid-day meal, I hurried to get back to my room; I had to see to my education. It wasn’t a long walk, despite the large size of the castle.
When I walked to my bedchamber, my personal tutor was not there yet. I sorted out my supplies as I waited for her. I reviewed what she had taught me during the days before.
In the beginning of time, there was Terrion. He created this world and a woman, Scarlett. He soon had a son with Her. He named the son Clarence.
This family was not enough for Him, though. So He created mankind, and showed them to His family. Scarlett abhorred us, afraid that He might love our race and forget Her and Her son, but Clarence enjoyed us. As He grew, He came to our earth often.
As the years passed, the human race grew to love Him more than His father. Our prayers went to Clarence, and rarely to Terrion. Terrion grew furious, and waged war on the humans. Clarence defended us and, shocked and hurt, Terrion retreated to His world, forever banishing Clarence.
Clarence then created Penelope, his mortal wife. Realizing that otherwise He would grow to outlive her, He used the last of his immortality to create Night and Day, the twin sisters.
That was where the lesson ended. I did not take stock in such stories, but it was important that I learn the beliefs of a country I might one day rule.
I pulled out a fresh piece of parchment and used my graphite rod to draw on it. As I drew a picture of Night approaching, a very common subject for me, my tutor Iathia walked in.
“Aelia, do you remember what you learned yesterday?” She asked.
“Yes, Clarence was cast out of Terrion’s earth forever and he created Penelope, Night, and Day.” I summarized.
“Good. You know what happens after that?” She asked, sorting her papers
“No, ma’am.” I said. She set down her papers and looked at me.
“No one ever spoke of it with you?” She asked.
“No, ma’am.” I said again. She looked at me for a moment.
“Well, then, this will be a little bit difficult; I was only prepared for a light review.” She said, slightly flustered.
“All right,” She said after a very short period of time. “I’m ready.
“Clarence and Penelope had a son and a daughter. They named them Quinnion and Dailetha. Because Clarence and Penelope were mortal, so were their children, but they all had power. And that is why only someone in their bloodline can rule Eviria. Only someone in your bloodline.”
* * * * *
After dinner that night, I resisted Night’s hold once more. I turned over on my bed many times, thinking about my heritage. As I have said, I put little stock in such stories, but if this was true… I was not only a royal, but I was part goddess. Night’s hold tugged at me, nearly smothering me, but I stayed awake.
I was part goddess, and I was being forced to marry. It seemed strange, that a goddess would be forced to do something, but it was not only what happened, it was why it happened.
Eventually, Night pulled me into her protection.
* * * * *
I screamed as I fell from the tree. Again.
“Oh, well; you’ve been doing pretty well.” Aiden said as I got up, rubbing my back.
“I suppose.” I said, wincing.
“Don’t worry; you’ll be a tomboy in no time.” She consoled.
“A what?” I asked, standing at the foot of the tree and looking up at Aiden, who was swinging by her knees.
“A tomboy. You know, a girl who can do all the things a boy can do and likes them.” She said, dropping to the branch just below the one she had been on. “Well, what are you waiting for? One more try. Please?”
I sighed and reached up to grab the lowest branch on the tree. In about ten minutes, I reached the branch where Aiden was. She began to climb higher.
“Come on!” She called.
“I think I will just… stay here for now. You climb higher; I know you like heights.” I said. She climbed higher, grinning at me.
“You’re not getting tired already, are you?” She asked.
“No.” I replied.
“Scared?” She teased.
“No, I’m thinking.” I then smiled and said, “And you would do well to remember that I am royalty. You shouldn’t tease someone with power.”
She swung down onto the branch I was on and saluted me jokingly.
“Sorry, your highness.” She said, slightly sarcastic.
“You had better be!” I joked and we both burst out laughing. Suddenly, everything went dark and Aiden froze. I sat up straight and looked around. The gardeners were all frozen, too. I heard a snap above my head and I looked up quickly, causing me to lose my balance and fall. As I sat up, something landed in front of me. I looked up and gasped; I was facing one of the demons that had tormented me in my childhood.
“No!” I tried to shout, but it came out as a whisper.
“There’s no use shouting, dear one.” She said slowly and calmly. “No one will come. Do you remember me?”
Unable to speak, I nodded.
“Good. Now, aren’t you at all angry that your father is forcing you to marry?”
“I… Well, it’s what’s best for the kingdom.” I said, a sudden burst of confidence compelling me to stand up.
“Sit down, child!” She said, pushing me back to the ground. “Maybe it is best for the kingdom, but is it best for you?”
Not trying to get up this time, I glared at her. She sighed.
“Well, what about your brother?” She asked. A burst of sadness ran through me.
“What about him?” I asked.
She smiled a wicked grin.
“Well, wouldn’t you like to save him?” She said in a persuasive voice.
“Save him? He’s dead.” I said, confused.
“But he won’t be if you join us.” She said.
“No! Why would I believe you, anyways?”
“Listen, you impudent child! You are being selfish by refusing to help him!” She snarled.
I began to stand up again, but she forced me back down and I hit my head on the tree.
“I would advise you not to treat a princess this way!” I threatened.
“I serve someone much higher than you.” She sneered, and then she looked me over.
“Selfish.” She chided, before disappearing. The world became light again.
“Aelia!?” I heard Aiden exclaim.
“Down here.” I said, looking up.
“Did you fall?” She chuckled as she climbed down. “I didn’t even see it!”
I attempted to smile.
“I think I’m going to go home now.” I said.
“Why, because you fell down a few times?” She asked, smirking, and then she stopped and began studying me.
“Are you okay?” She asked, concerned.
“Yes; I… I guess I am just a little tired.” I smiled weakly. She didn’t look convinced.
“Are you sure?” She asked.
I smiled a little more and said, “Definitely.”
“All right. I’ll come with you.” She said, still concerned.
At the doors to the castle, she said goodbye and walked to the servants’ quarters, sending a few concerned glances my way.
I went straight to my room and lay down on my bed; I was too unsettled to focus on anything for long, but I was also too unsettled to sleep. My head still throbbed, and I wondered if maybe I had simply fallen out of the tree and hit my head. Although it had seemed very realistic, it could have been possible, right? The demons hadn’t tormented me since I was five, why start again now? Maybe that was all it was, and I just needed to sleep it off. The thought calmed me down, and I was able to sleep.
My mother came into my room and woke me up before our dinner and, like always, my mind had sorted everything out. I was sure that I had not confronted a demon and that I had merely hit my head too hard on the tree.
At dinner we discussed the plans for the gala ball where I would meet my future husband candidates. I could tell from his expressions throughout the conversation that it pained my father to force me to marry. I was indifferent to it by that point, so long as my husband was a kind man.
My mother was already almost done with the plans, probably because the planning took her mind off things. I could understand that easily. I spent time with what Aiden and I now call my Tomboy Lessons to take my mind off things, after all.
My dress was to be elegant but simple. It wouldn’t poof out after the waist like other dresses. It would fall straight, flowing outwards slightly at my waist. It was plain pink, but my mother said that she was going to have it embroidered and jewels embedded in it before the gala ball. She was also having the sleeves altered to be “princess sleeves” as the servants called it. We didn’t have a name for them; we just called them “sleeves that puffed out at the top.”
We weren’t planning to let employees come, but I convinced my mother to let Aiden come. She was going to wear a simpler version of my dress. It was going to be honeydew yellow-colored without embroidery or jewels, and normal sleeves. Aiden scowled at the thought of wearing a dress, but she was happy to be going. I had known she would be.
* * * * *
I fell asleep easily that night, but a loud sound woke me up after the moon was high in the sky and the stars were bright. I sat up in bed.
“Hello?” I asked, my voice shaky.
“Are you still being selfish?” A familiar voice flowed through the room from nowhere.
“Oh, it’s you.” I sighed impatiently, realizing that I was dreaming. I lay back down and tried to go back into a dreamless sleep.
“Tsk, tsk!” She scolded. “How impolite. What if I have something important to say?”
“You don’t, because I’m dreaming. Go away.” I said sleepily. Suddenly something shook me and my eyes snapped open to the sight of the demon, now present in the room.
“I can assure you, you are not dreaming.” She said, her dark blue hands still clamped around my shoulders. Suddenly I felt genuine fear run through me and I shuddered.
“Oh, are you finally getting scared? Smart girl.” She said. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing myself to wake up.
“Now, back to my original question: are you still being selfish?” She said, releasing my arms. I opened my eyes to see her five feet away with her hands on her hips, her head cocked to the side curiously.
“I don’t understand why you think that I believe you can bring him back from the dead.” I said defiantly.
“Because he’s not dead. He’s frozen, just like everyone else in the castle right now. If I can freeze them, I can help you unfreeze him.” She said in an enticing tone.
“You say that like you’re not the one who froze him. Aren’t you?” I asked.
“No, my master did. I tried to stop him; I said he was going too far, but he wouldn’t listen. The only way to save your brother is to join us.” She insisted. “You could make your father pay for making you, a partial goddess, marry.”
I had, most likely because of how tired I was, been considering everything she had said up until that point, but with this last remark I turned over on my bed to face away from her and coldly remarked, “I’m not interested, thank you.”
The room became slightly lighter and I was sure she was gone. I fell back asleep quickly and slept for the rest of the night, sure that it had only been a dream.
* * * * *
I awoke early that morning to the sounds of servants rushing through the house. I dressed in casual clothes, knowing that shortly before the gala I would change into my dress and no one important would see me before then.
When I found my mother, she was with the tailor and Aiden, who, to the tailor’s dismay, was fidgeting her dress. It seemed the tailor was making a few last-minute adjustments to the dress and then Aiden could take it off.
When Aiden was finally wearing leggings and a tunic again, she was much more calm and comfortable-looking. It amused me greatly, and I almost laughed, but I held it in so as not to anger Aiden.
Aiden and I wandered around the castle, checking on the kitchen and the other arrangements, until we heard that the first guests had arrived, and then we rushed to my room to change.
As I unveiled my dress, I gasped. I had never been a “sissy-girl” as Aiden referred to it, but this dress was beautiful. I had even got an “It’s nice,” from Aiden.
The dress fit me perfectly, even though I had never tried it on. I assumed that that was because a sorcerer had helped make it. Aiden and I waited in my room for my mother to come get me; I was too nervous about meeting my future husband to seek her out and go as soon as possible.
It wasn’t very long before my mother came. She told me to enter the dining hall from the grand staircase, but she and Aiden were going in a separate way, so as not to draw attention away from me. I opened my mouth to protest but I knew that I would lose.
I parted ways with my mother and Aiden soon afterward, as I went down a separate hall leading to the grand staircase. When I reached the doors, I stopped. My stomach was twisting in knots. I took several deep breaths, and I opened the doors.
Manage Your Items