Turned invisible, Inerishia and Kendel walked hand in hand without speaking. As their lethargic steps carried them toward a boulder, which rested half of its massiveness on the calm beach, Kendel was wondering what knowledge his wife was keeping only to herself. Why did she have to keep secrets from him? He’d known Inerishia for more than ten years already, and he trusted her more than anyone else. Why secrets when their relationship was so strong? He raised an eyebrow and glanced toward the faraway woods that were now only a great shadow with ridged margins, grazing the starry sky. Maybe Gladiole had taught Inerishia to keep things from her husband so he would never grow bored of her. Old-fashioned nonsense supposed to nourish a happy marriage. He could see Gladiole’s sour face commanding a younger version of Inerishia to swear she would always stay secretive. A man must not always know what you think. He interpreted Gladiole in his mind pulling his lips down toward the chin and rising his nose up in the air.
Starting their passing by the enormous rock, Inerishia got tired of hearing Kendel’s rhythmical sighs and strange gasps, so she turned to face him. “All right, what is it?” She asked seriously but then burst into laughter at the sight of his elongated grimace.
A little embarrassed, Kendel dropped the act and cleared his voice.
“Is it safe to talk here?” he whispered, redundantly checking the surroundings. “Won’t Gladiole detect our location if we talk here?”
Inerishia lifted a hand toward the stone, her loose sleeve swinging gently in the sea breeze. “We’re protected by this boulder. If you have something to talk, you better say it right here and right now. After we fly over to your home island, we better watch our tongues. I’m sure my mother has sent someone to spy on our visit to your parents.”
Kendel snickered. “I hope Gladiole sent the tree-shifter again for that task. I love seeing him green with jealousy.”
Inerishia gave him a playful nudge. “Let’s not waste time. We said we’d briefly visit your parents then get back to the White Castle. The island people won’t be able to cover our absence for too long. What’s on your mind?”
“All right. I have many questions to ask, but I’ll be short. Why did you choose that name? Why did you choose such a Selene name for our daughter when the prince has such a solar name? I may be too romantic, but that sounds like you set them up to be together.”
Inerishia smiled and shook her head. “Don’t over think things, Kendel. I was just inspired by the boy’s name. It reminded me of my favorite legend from childhood. And besides, the two get along so well. They’re like siblings.”
Kendel absorbed her words. “Your favorite legend? The Mythical Visitors who came to stop a world disaster?”
“Yes. I always admired that tale, how Helios protected Selene in their journey to stop the sinking of the entire world. I wish the prince would care for our daughter just like Helios did for Selene.”
Kendel pondered, staring into her azure eyes, now grayed by the dim light of the night. “You sure tell me everything?”
“Yes. Come on, Kendel. Stop being so suspicious. I’m as tired as you are, and tomorrow we have to be ready for a long journey.”
Kendel sighed and glanced at the distant quivering reflection of the moon in the sea, hoping it would tame his curious thoughts. “I actually like the name Selunia a lot,” he said.
Inerishia squeezed his hand empathically, watching the round moon’s magical glow. “It’s not too late to change our girl’s name,” she admitted.
Kendel smiled. “All right. Then we’ll keep it.”
Weeks after her arrival in the Arid Kingdom’s castle, Selunia was already accustomed to everything in the building. She had a nanny who helped her choose her clothes and brush her hair, an educator who was scared of her and was teaching her the alphabet from a great distance, and she had Waltario, the most respected man in the palace, care for her. Despite missing her parents daily, she had much fun with the prince every afternoon.
One morning, Selunia heard a commotion echoing from the yard, so she stepped out on the round balcony and leaned forward against the marble balustrade. In the courtyard, a number of majestic carriages had gathered, and ladies in beautiful gown came out of them accompanied by men in overly-decorated suits. “Too bad mommy didn’t let me keep the invisibility crystal,” she mumbled, gazing at the sparkling dresses and the colorful arrangements in the yard. “I could’ve attended the party as well.”
A slender woman dressed in a beige robe approached her with silent steps. “Miss, please don’t lean over like that. Someone might notice you, or worse, you might fall.”
Selunia turned around and smiled at the elder. “Nanny, can you please make me look special today? I want to look gorgeous like everyone else.”
“Sure, young miss. But don’t forget you’re not allowed to leave this room, as per General Waltario’s instructions.”
“Yes, Nanny,” Selunia replied with sad eyes.
However, when she saw a beautiful pink dress with sparkling butterflies and flounces, the smile returned on her face, and after nanny brushed her dark hair and folded two locks into small buns atop of her head fastening them with glittery pins, Selunia yelped with joy. She twirled in front of the mirror, radiating with delight. Her happiness was so contagious that even the rather serious nanny’s cheeks brightened up. It was indeed a shame she couldn’t attend the party.
Late in the evening, sitting on the carpet, Selunia was slowly coloring a drawing of her and the prince playing together in a sunny field. He used to visit her daily, but today it had been different. Because of the royal party, the boy hadn’t shown up as usual. The next day, if they were going to meet, she was determined to tell him how upset she’d been because he’d forgotten about her. How could that party be more important than her? She took a brown pencil and made a mess of the boy’s hair.
A few minutes later, Nanny heard a couple of hasty knocks, so she went to open the door. Soris was right there heaving noisily after a long run taken to reach the girl’s room.
“Your Highness,” Nanny rushed to say, bowing her head respectfully.
Selunia left her drawing and charged at him. “Where have you been?” she asked.
“Oh, sorry, Princess. I had to—”
“I don’t care! How could you forget about me?” she said, pouting and turning her back on him.
“Miss, that’s rude!” Nanny exclaimed preparing to sermonize Selunia.
“It’s okay, Nanny,” Soris said taking on an adult’s air. “I’ll talk with her. Can you bring us some lemonade?”
Nanny bowed her head and swept out of the room. Selunia flounced back to her drawing pretending to ignore him. Soris followed her with a troubled expression. As he stopped and watched her kneeling on the floor and setting on coloring as if he didn’t exist, the boy noticed her astonishing dress-up.
“You look very beautiful today, Princess,” he said, trying to wash away the tension in the air.
Selunia lifted the piece of paper and pretended to admire her own stick-figure creation, when in fact she was a bit flattered by his compliment. Soris scratched the back of his head then tried to explain himself, “Today is my birthday, Princess. I had to stay with the guests or else Mom would be very angry.”
“I don’t forgive you,” Selunia said with an obstinate pout.
The boy carefully took a seat next to her and laid a red bag on the floor. “Here, I brought cakes,” he said, opening the bag and taking out a silvery box. When he took its lid off, Selunia glanced at the square-shaped treats then folded her arms on her chest.
The prince insisted. “They’re your favorites. I picked only the ones with lots of strawberries and whipped cream. Try one at least.”
Selunia shot him a dark look, then angrily took one piece of cake and pushed it in her mouth, chewing it slowly to ease her frustration. Soris watched her with an awkward smile, adding shyly, “I brought dessert spoons, too.”
Selunia, lips smeared with cream and traces of chocolate, said proudly, “So what? I bet you can’t eat like me.” She pointed at the biggest piece of cake in the tray. “If you can eat that like me, I’ll forgive you.”
Soris seized that piece immediately and struggled to press the multi-layered cake inside his largely-opened mouth. Still chewing on her piece, Selunia watched him with amazement. He did it and now he was working on mincing the creamy treat. They looked at each other, both with puffed cheeks, and they burst into laughter. As words were hard to pronounce in such a situation, Soris understood from her delighted chuckle that she’d forgiven him and was ready to play.
After swallowing, Selunia gave him a napkin then took one for her. Wiping her mouth, she commented, “I can’t believe you ate it.”
Soris, finishing his long fight with the cake, said smugly, “Of course, I did. I’m eight now. I can eat greater things.”
Selunia clapped her hands, squeaking with joy. “Happy birthday, Soris,” she chirped.
“Thank you, Princess.”
“I’m not Princess. I’m Selunia.”
“I know, but I can’t get used to that name. And besides… you really look like a princess today.”
Selunia caught her cheeks between her hands and chuckled overwhelmed by emotions. The prince gazed at her, unable to understand why her laugh was making him unusually happy.
In the party hall, Queen Melisa searched everywhere for someone. “Soris, where are you?” she asked from time to time, scanning through the shifting servants and the red-faced remaining guests.
Few people sat now around the two long tables filled with food and empty glasses. The majority of attendees had left before the twilight, and now those who sat gathered in small groups chatting and laughing in the corners of the hall were mostly the palace people. Under the bright golden light of the chandeliers, she was sure she hadn’t missed noticing her son.
She went to General Waltario who sat by the long table, pouring himself another glass of wine.
“You drank more than you normally do, General,” she stated with slight surprise.
Waltario let the glass on the table and looked at her with lustrous eyes. “Soris is like my son, so I deserve to drink like his father,” he answered, smiling with his newly-grown beard.
“Do you know where my son is? I don’t see him anywhere, and Clark says he didn’t go to his room.”
“Then he must be playing with my daughter,” Constantine replied, amusing himself. “Soris likes to play with Selunia. They’re great siblings.”
The queen looked somewhat offended. “I’ll take that as a joke since you’re not in your best shape right now. My son has nothing in common with that outcast. In fact, if he does like to play with her, I’d like you to stop them. I don’t have a good feeling about that girl.”
“I’ll take that as a joke since I understand your stressful situation,” the general replied, glimpsing King Martin escorting two noisy ladies outside the palace.
Melisa glanced briefly in that direction then returned to Waltario, unconcerned about her husband’s whereabouts. “I’m not joking, General,” she insisted with eagle eyes. “That girl is strange and doesn’t have noble blood. My son will have no benefit from talking to her. Soris needs to have strong connections with the boyars.”
Constantine sipped some ruby wine then said softly, “My queen, I think you should learn to relax a bit. Cut the boy some slack. He chats with the boyars’ kids, too, so you needn’t worry about his connections. Selunia is an educated child as well, and I think that by playing with her, Soris learns to be generous and caring. Let’s be honest, most noble kids are a bit selfish and arrogant. We don’t want Soris to be a dictator.”
Melisa listened to him, unconvinced by his arguments.