GreatLady Gladiole leaned against an arch of fluffy red flowers, glancing at the small carriage which sat stationed on a wide stone path, a couple of meters to her left. She gave a nervous sigh and crossed arms on her chest, pushing back her long shiny hair. Taking her eyes away from the wooden vehicle, she watched the garden with a sour look imprinted on her mature face while a little girl with long dark hair played around, searching through the grass.
A tall man in sage clothes emerged from behind the carriage, ambling toward the little girl.
“Ines, are you ready?” he asked, stroking gently her long hair. She nodded, lifting a smile at him, barely grasping sight of his face covered by the sunlight.
“Let me take you to your mother.” He lifted her up from the meadow, enjoying her giggles as he touched her little nose. “Look how cute you are. I’m so proud to be your father.”
Gladiole’s lips grew thinner as she listened to their chatter.
“Everyone who sees you can tell that Inerishia and I are your parents. You have her eyes, while your hair is just like mine. You’re perfect!” he said cuddling her in his arms.
“A perfect monster!” Gladiole snapped, barely maintaining her position by the flowers.
The seemingly young father glanced at her, not letting that remark wipe off his smile. Ines clutched his right thumb, pretending to shake his hand, oblivious of what the grandmother had said about her.
“Mother-in-law, I see you’re still mad at me,” the man with short hair said, amused by the woman’s stiff frown. “Our daughter is something special, maybe that’s what you’re trying to say. She’ll be ten times stronger than us and will make a great change in this world. She’ll know no boundaries.” As the little girl squeezed his thumb, he shut his eyes, feigning a groan of pain, “Ow! Look how strong she is!”
Ines released the finger, her eyes rounding up with worry. Her father opened a squinted eye, then started laughing. “Look! My little girl cares for me,” he said, leaning his forehead over hers. “Such a gentle girl will do no harm to anyone.”
Gladiole watched them with disgust, her fingernails piercing the silvery sleeves of her long coat, then she burst with anger, “Kendel, you’ve brought only disaster to my daughter. I shouldn’t have ever let you marry her.”
“I shouldn’t have ever called you ‘mother’,” Inerishia said, passing confidently by her. “You’re the monster here,” she added, shooting a sharp glare behind her shoulder.
Gladiole stepped forward, avoiding making an eye-contact. “Don’t talk to me. You’re still bewitched by this charlatan. One day you’ll wake up from his spell and face great disappointment.”
“I woke up a long time ago, and the only one who disappointed me was you!” Inerishia retorted hopping in the carriage, right next to Kendel.
Gladiole watched the carriage growing smaller, then fading away behind the magical barrier which protected the stronghold from curious people. Back in the arch of flowers, two leaves curled up and shape-shifted into a pair of green eyes. “Shall I go now?” a male voice asked.
The woman nodded, her long golden hair barely showing some movement. “Yes. Find out where they’re leaving the child,” she replied, then mumbled to herself, “I’m sure this trip is only a masquerade.”
In the middle of a tall forest of the Arid Kingdom, the cart’s wheels spun slowly on a dusty path. They traveled in silence for a while, Kendel carrying a subtle smile while Inerishia had her lips slightly pressed together, her mind plunged into deep thought. Kendel stole glances at his wife out of the corner of his eyes, then broke the silence, “So you had a vision again.”
Inerishia winced but managed to maintain her composure. She couldn’t get caught.
“What calamity comes this time?” he asked, watching the horse’s calm pace.
The woman turned, bewildered by his guess. “Why do you say ‘calamity’?”
“Well, isn’t it true that you have these sudden visions whenever something bad is about to happen?”
She fumbled as she stared at his calm and careless ivory face. “So far, yes, that seems to be the case. I’m still trying to control this new power of mine, although it seems impossible. The future is always subject to change, and interpreting those visions is such a nuisance. They’re vague. I can never let them guide me.”
“Except for today,” Kendel stated, leaving Inerishia speechless. He turned his head to look into her rounded azure eyes. “I saw you preparing for this day.”
Inerishia swallowed in silence then lifted her chin. “Why are you surprised? It’s only normal to prepare in advance for a trip like this. We’re taking our daughter outside the stronghold. I’m a mother. It’s only normal to be worried.”
Kendel kept the reins swinging. “You took a piece from the barrier’s crystals. What would make you do that unless you really felt threatened by something? I know pretty well all the restrictions of the White Castle. Taking out invisibility crystals is one of them. ”
Inerishia quickly glanced back through the narrow window of the cart only to notice that Ines sat lounging on the bench of soft cotton, her closed eyelids twitching gently from time to time, under the spell of a dream.
Kendel smiled without disturbing his posture of a calm driver. “She’s sleeping, right?”
“Yes. How did you know that?” Inerishia returned to him, surprised by all his guesses.
“I hid at least ten red stones in the garden for her to search. You can imagine that after running ten times around the stronghold, she must be tired.”
“Why did you do that?”
“You and I must stay focused on the road. I had to make sure she won’t be agitated during the trip. A kid of her age has the energy of two adults. That was the only way to make her want to sleep on her own.”
Inerishia turned once again, this time to glance behind the carriage. Kendel cleared his throat. “If you’re wondering whether we’re being tailed, allow me to tell you that we are. Grandma Gladiole sent Shion, the shape-shifter, to spy on us. Thankfully, he can’t turn himself into air, otherwise, we’d lose our right to privacy completely. Grandma, I mean, you mother is definitely hard to trick. She sensed we were going to hide our little one from her before we go on our lengthy mission.”
Inerishia frowned. “I know she figured out we had a plan with this trip, but I won’t let her stop us. I can’t leave Ines in her care, not after seeing how she took our girl to that ramshackle temple. I think she wanted to force our daughter’s powers to surface out, risking killing her.”
Kendel tilted his head as he pronounced each word, “Your grandma suspects exactly what you suspect or maybe you know for sure but won’t tell me exactly.”
“Kendel, please don’t start this discussion again. I’m already anxious about this day.”
“Sure, my dear. All I want is for you to share your burdens with me because you’re keeping too many worries only to yourself.” Kendel paused, his smile vanishing. “I feel like I deceived you back then when we first met. I had no idea that I was only a magician, a wizard who learned to trick the laws of nature, that I was different from you, who had your inner powers awakened.”
Inerishia gave him a nudge. “Hey, you didn’t deceive me. Even if I knew that, I wouldn’t have given up on you.”
Kendel clutched the reins with a heavy heart.
“Still, I am proof that you people of the White Castle are not a superior race, as your leaders imply. I am proof that any human being has an inner power that can be awakened. It’s just that it’s easier for someone who’s had both parents with awakened inner powers.”
He glanced back, trying to identify Shion in the peaceful forest, hoping that the shape-shifter hadn’t slid under the carriage in the form of some reptile. Unable to notice anything unusual, he continued, “Gosh, I still remember that day when everybody discovered that I was different. When I saw a hundred of calm faces suddenly turning to kill me, all my insides contracted. I think there was no more air in any part of my living being.”
Inerishia laid a hand over his. “I know how you felt, Kendel. It’s unbelievable how my own mother could be so harsh.”
“I can’t wait to get to my home village. Here. Take this part of the reins.” Inerishia grabbed the reins and watched the horse swinging its long, black tail as if it felt the change of driver. Kendel released the reins, then slid one arm around Inerishia’s back and pulled her close to him, pretending his intention was actually to grab back on the reins. “Sorry, I’m not sure I can let you do this alone.”
Inerishia chuckled, letting her head rest on him. “You’re unpredictable as usual.”
Kendel glanced back, then returned with a smirk. “His jealousy betrayed him. He’s now pretending to be a snake.”
“Are you saying Shion is jealous of us?”
A shrug. “I’m not saying anything. It’s just his disguise didn’t last well for a couple of moments after I took you close and that was enough for me to identify him. Let’s move.” He swung the reins and urged the horse to speed up its pace.
Passing by a long beach, they stopped and got off. One mile away into the sea, the long Smarald Island was waiting for them. The door of the cart blew open as little Ines jumped out. “Yay! The sea!” she exclaimed, to her parents’ surprise who thought she would be sleeping.
Close to a boat, a lanky man in a large, sleeveless shirt, waved at them. Kendel ambled toward him and hugged him. “Brother Vlin, I missed you!”
“I missed you too, buddy! Your mother is busy like a bee making food and baking sweets for her granddaughter, and your father is crafting a new bed for her. They’re so happy you’re letting her stay with them,” he shouted, his sharp eyes taking note of Shion, who’d taken the shape of a branch.
Kendel asked in a whisper, “Is everything prepared?”
“Yes. There’s a boat waiting for you on the other side of the island.” He patted Kendel’s back, then went to greet Inerishia who gazed into the sunny horizon, wearing a concerned expression. “Vlin, is there anything wrong with this place?” she asked.
Vlin was taken aback, but forced a smile and kissed the back of her hand, whispering,
“You mean the guy who’s now a branch?”
Inerishia shook her head. “No. There’s a strange aura in this place. It wasn’t like this before.” Vlin turned an askance face toward his brother. Kendel got close to them.
“What’s the matter?”
Inerishia pulled out a piece of crystal from a pocket, and before opening her fist to show its color, she sighed bitterly. When her palm showed the crystal, they all noticed it was black.
Vlin gasped. “The devils!”
Exchanging concentrated glances with Vlin, Kendel closed his wife’s palm to cover the stone. “We should go back.”
Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoyed reading “The Secret Trip”.