Chapter 12 – The Promise (The Prequel)

Part I

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.

Part II right here.

Chapter 12 – Part II (Final)

Months later, the queen’s patience and understanding reached an end. It seemed that Selunia was going to live in their palace much longer than previously assumed, and Soris was spending more and more time with her. One day, Melisa went to Soris as soon as he finished his lessons. She saw him blasting out of the room with increasing joy.

“Stop,” she said, firmly planting herself before him. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to play with Selunia,” he answered, impatient to continue his run.

“Don’t go to her.”

The boy’s joy visibly decreased. “Why?”

“I interdict you to play with her. She’s a bad influence on you, and you need to have friends among the boyars.”

“I don’t want to! She’s no bad influence. We have a lot of fun,” he protested, begging her with his eyes.

“I said no, do you understand? I’m not asking for your opinion. This is a command and you shall obey! Now go to your room. If you don’t listen, I’ll punish you.”

The boy saw the stern glare on her face, so he hung his head and obeyed. Even though Lady Voronchi hadn’t ever come into the palace since Waltario’s action plan, her relationship with the king hadn’t grown nicer. Martin had found other ladies and those were daring to show their disdain and defiance toward her, filling her days with poisonous frustrations and regrets, darkening her mentality and stiffening her character.

Soris went to his room and was so distressed by his mother’s request to the point he could start crying. He’d found such a nice friend in Selunia and dreaded the fact that he would have to break ties with her. Hands resting on his head, he paced the room back and forth, fretting about this. If he missed playing with her, she would get really upset. He should at least talk to her and tell her about this, rather than just show her the cold shoulder on the first occasion they accidentally meet.

He searched through his toys and gifts wanting to offer her something like a goodbye present. After finding a bear, a rabbit, and a golden unicorn, he thought he should bring some sweets and then maybe find a hairpin and then… He stopped, realizing he was wasting time. He packed everything in a bag, and slunk off the room to the girl’s chamber, hoping he won’t bump into Clark or the queen.

Passing long corridors and flights of stairs, his breath cutting short after going around every corner, he reached her room. He knocked superficially and rushed in only to find the girl sobbing greatly. Selunia sat in bed, knees to her chest, face buried in a small pillow, crying her parents’ names.

Soris dropped the bag and ran to her. “Princess, what happened?”

Selunia uncovered her wet face. “Mommy and Daddy aren’t coming!” she yelled, tears rolling down her cheeks. “They’re never coming back!”

Sorrow welled up in the boy’s heart. He started numbering the months and realized they should have returned weeks ago. He hopped next to her and watched her in silence, sharing her sorrow, while her tears tortured him, not knowing what to do. It was definitely not the moment to say goodbye to her, but on the other hand, he was afraid of his mother. He pondered for a while until he finally made up his mind. He would not let Selunia alone. He would lie. He moved closer and engulfed the girl in his arms, hoping this would offer enough comfort to stop her from crying.

“Don’t worry, Princess. I will never leave you,” he uttered. “From now on, I’ll take care of you. I will protect you.”

Selunia’s sobs became quieter under the spell of his innocent embrace.

*

The next days, the queen was keeping an eye on Soris. He pretended to go out and play with the nobles, and then later he snuck back in the palace making up different excuses. With time, he made up an even better lie.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to play.”

“Who with?”

“Karl.”

Soris lied that he had a new friend whose name was Karl. He pronounced that name with confidence every time he was asked, feeling at ease that it was only half a lie. Karl from Karleyani, the girl’s real last name. Soon, however, the general caught on the lie. One day, when the boy came into his studio, Waltario asked him, “So you’re going to play with Karl, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Karl is right here,” he said, stretching a hand toward Selunia, who was sitting on a chair, pretending to brush a doll’s hair.

Soris was taken aback. He raised terrified eyes toward the general.

Constantine folded his arms on his chest, preparing to lecture the boy. “You two know you’re not allowed to play with each other.”

Selunia let her chin down on her chest. Soris did so too, but after a few seconds, he dared to face the general again.

“Can you let us play?” he uttered, shyly clasping his hands at his back.

Waltario pitied him. “Look, Soris, it’s not me who doesn’t allow you. It’s your mother, and I think you should listen to her.”

“But who’s going to play with her, then? Only I can because I can keep secrets,” the boy said raising his tone.

“Why are you so sure?”

“I didn’t tell dad about the bottle!”

The general was amused by his boldness. “Well, true. The king has a hunch that someone has interfered in his business, but he doesn’t care to find out. Once he’s changed his mind about someone, he doesn’t turn back even if it was his fault.”

“So can we play?” Soris insisted, trying to be as sweet as possible.

“Don’t do that to me. Beg your mother, not me.”

“Oh, come on, General. You know Mom will never agree. I told her about Clark and she didn’t agree to change him.”

“I think her decisions are well grounded so I’m not going against them.”

“All right. But if I play, you won’t tell on me, right?”

The general frowned. “What are you implying?”

Soris lifted his chin and grinned. “Well, you don’t let us play, but if we play, you won’t tell anybody, right?”

Waltario started laughing out loud. “Spunky kid. All right. You’re going to come out with me and, after that,” he raised his hands in the air, “I don’t know what you do.”

Soris followed the general outside, hoping that he wouldn’t change his mind the last minute. Constantine turned and said, “Remember, Your Highness, you are not to play with Selunia,” he said with a quick wink.

“Yes, General,” Soris nodded and watched him leaving until he couldn’t see any shadow in the corridor. After that, eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, he slid back in the studio and started a joyous celebration of his victory. Selunia jumped around him with admiration. He’d been able to convince a great man like Waltario to let them play. That was something amazing to her.

*

One year and a half later, as the two were playing hide and seek in the general’s studio, Constantine came in accompanied by two people dressed in long brown cloaks. They pulled back their hoods, revealing a dark-haired man, and a ginger-haired woman with wet, azure eyes. She could barely hold back her tears.

Selunia ran into her arms. “Mommy, you’re back!”

Waltario shifted to a side to let the three enjoy their unexpected reunion. “Well, Selunia, your parents are alive,” he stated with a smile. “I told you it was possible they were late.”

Selunia, after sharing how much she’d missed them and cried for them, took on an upset pout. Kendel lifted her up and said, “Oh, my sweetheart. Daddy was really late this time. How old are you now?”

“Seven. How could you forget about my birthday?”

“Oh, I never forgot. I was just too far away from you. But don’t worry. When we get home, I’m going to give you many presents to make up for my absence.” Kendel let the child down and embraced her once more, glad he’d found a way to return from the difficult mission.

“You’ll get many presents from me, too,” Inerishia said, then turning to the general, “Again, thank you so much, General. I hope the crystals we gave you will show useful in your research.”

Constantine waved a hand. “You don’t have to thank me. What I did was nothing compared to the help you provided to our kingdom back then. Selunia is a good child. I never had any trouble with her.”

“All right, then we shall leave you in peace now,” Kendel said. “Despite what you say, we know it’s hard to raise a child.”

“Two actually,” Constantine corrected him, pointing at the prince who was slowly stepping to Selunia.

“So you’re leaving?” he asked the girl, with shocked eyes.

“Yes. I’m going home with my mommy.”

He looked down on the floor, pretending to scratch some dust with his feet, then he asked with a heavy heart, “Will I see you again?”

Selunia suddenly understood his sadness. She looked up at her parents who refrained from saying anything but watched her and the boy with compassion. If they were going to meet again, that wasn’t going to be very soon. Selunia returned her attention on the boy and said with determination, “Yes. You will see me again, and when I come back, I’m going to be your protector!”

Soris lifted up his eyes and smiled, joy sprouting in his heart. “You my protector? How can that be possible?” He gave a playful grin.

“Just you wait and see!”

As her parents’ dragged her out of the studio, Soris waved at her and yelled, “I’ll be waiting to see that!”

Selunia nodded, firmly believing that one day she would fulfill her promise.

***

Will they meet? Of course they will but after 12 years. How will they meet and who will remember who after a long war?

You can read about their reunion in Book #1 (The Mysterious Soldier – Part I), for free if you sign up here.

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List of published books:

Kyle’s Nightmare (Mystery Novel)
The Arid Kingdom epic fantasy series:
Book #1 – The Mysterious Soldier – P1
Book #2 – The Mysterious Soldier – P2

Chapter 11 – Family Reunion (The Prequel)

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A bright beam of light streamed down upon Waltario’s rough hands. Using a small brush, the man was concentrated on carefully cleaning a small but complex piece of metal needed for one of his inventions. His father had left him many objects he could use to build weapons or vehicles. Some of them were said to have been stolen from the enemies’ during wartime, but Constantine was certain others had had a strange history which his father had preferred to keep for himself.

The general’s heavy desk was cluttered with paper sheets and rulers, screws, nuts, and bolts, just like his cabinets and shelves were crammed with a number of objects ordered by a kind of logic only he was able to understand. Inventions were his passion and the palace saw only a benefit in that. As he was doing his work, a smile kept playing on his face. His studio was livelier than usual. The two children, Soris and Ines, were squeaking and running in large circles around him and his desk. The boy was glowing with joy after he’d found the liqueur bottle with the king’s hidden message. Waltario had assured him that, after this discovery, Lady Voronchi would not dare to come again in the palace. That was the greatest piece of news to Soris. Once the king’s relationship with Lady Voronchi was over, the boy was sure he would get to see his mother laugh again.

Waltario’s brother entered the studio and was taken by surprise when the prince suddenly bumped into him.

“Oh, sorry,” said the boy, then started after Ines who scampered away, shrieking playfully.

Constantine’s younger brother followed them for a couple of seconds, blinking incredulously, then he advanced to the general and said, “I see you’re allowing them to play in your studio.”

Constantine let the piece of metal down on the desk and wiped his fingers on a dirty handkerchief. “Well, they’re my kids now,” he said, watching for a brief moment their loud trotting on the wooden floor. “I guess I was meant to be a father at this age, so I’m not going to run away from my destiny.”

Young Waltario stifled a laugh, then his eyes roved over the two again. Ines had tripped and now the boy was helping her get up.

“You okay, Princess?” the boy asked, offering his hand to lift her up.

“Yes. Thank you, Soris.”

Young Waltario let out a nostalgic sigh. “First love is so beautiful,” he commented. “I wish I could turn back time.”

Constantine picked up some screws and put them in a small box. “They’re kids. They’re not in love.”

As Ines was tidying her new dress offered by the general, Soris touched her silky locks.

“Wow, your hair is so long,” he gasped with admiration.

Young Waltario was all smiles at this scene. He leaned forward propping his arms on the desk and whispered to the general, “I hope we won’t need to forge letters for the prince like we did for his dad. He seems to charm girls from an early age.”

Constantine shot him a look of disapproval. “He’s just a curious kid. Don’t misjudge him.”

“I pity you,” his brother replied, amusing himself.

Past eight o’clock at night, the kids were playing in silence with some cardboard cubes, when suddenly the metal door swung open. Waltario turned around and met two unexpected visitors: Kendel and Inerishia. They both greeted him with tired smiles and pale faces as they hadn’t undergone a full rehabilitation procession. The war was over but they had to hurry up to check their daughter.

“Mommy! Daddy!” Ines yelled, running to them, abandoning the castle of cubes she had been building with the prince. Soris got up and went after her, slowing down when he saw the two tall strangers in long grey robes.

Inerishia dropped to her knees and squeezed her daughter in her arms. “Oh, my dear. I’m so glad you’re fine,” she mumbled with a faint voice. After running a quick visual check on the girl, she glanced up at the general, and said, “Thank you, General. Thank you.” Constantine was so astonished to see them that he could only reply with a polite nod.

Kendel took advantage of this moment and snatched the girl from his wife, lifting Ines in his arms. “My brave little girl, I thought I’d never see you again,” he said leaning his forehead against hers. Inerishia got up and embraced the two. “I’m so glad I could save you both today,” she said, resting her head on Kendel’s shoulder.

Constantine and Soris witnessed their family moment in silence, not daring to interrupt them. It was a sight they both had never seen in their own lives. Soris stared at them, trying to understand how that felt. His parents barely talked, and when they did, they were either cold with each other or trading glares. At least, that was how he’d gotten to see them in the corridors and conference rooms, as the two never shared a meal together. He watched with sad frustration and slight envy how Kendel played with Ines and kissed her forehead. King Martin would roll his eyes whenever he was called dad.

Waltario read that sorrow in the boy’s expression, so he pulled him close and patted him on the shoulder. Soris lifted his head and sketched a smile.

Feeling weakness crawling up his joints, Kendel let the girl down and knelt before her. “So what did my little one do here?”

“I gave Mommy’s letter to Waltario,” she said. Turning back her head and pointing at Soris, she added, “He helped me find him.”

The prince put his hands at his back and stepped forward shyly.

“Is it true?” Kendel asked. “You’ve helped my daughter find General Waltario?”

Soris sucked in his lips and nodded.

“Come here, buddy. I need to thank you properly.”

Soris did so, his eyes gleaming with joy.

“He also saved me from some bad kids,” Ines rushed to say.

Kendel gave the boy a pat on his shoulder then started ruffling his hair, saying, “It seems my girl has already found a knight here to protect her. Thank you, brave knight!”

Soris giggled, enjoying the fatherly warmth that spread on his head. Waltario cleared his throat and stepped forward. “He’s the prince actually. Future king, Prince Soris of the Arid Kingdom,” he stated loud and clear as if he presented the boy in front of a crowd.

Kendel’s smile stretched to an awkward grin. He hurried to tidy the boy’s hair. “My apologies, Your Highness,” he said rapidly. Little did he know that he’d been the first person to ever mess with the prince’s hair like that.

Kendel withdrew his hand, excusing his prior statement. “I thought he was your boy.”

Waltario shook his head and chuckled with a slow blink. “I’m divorced.”

His visitors’ face expressions dropped the smiles. Master Astute hadn’t communicated to them this piece of news. Not many in the White Castle knew what happened in the Aridens’ castle, and if they knew, they didn’t talk about it. Gossiping about the mortals’ affairs didn’t suit the superior people.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Kendel said with clear shock.

Constantine remained relaxed. “You don’t have to. I’m happy.”

They burst into laughter, except for Inerishia who simply couldn’t see that as an honest reply. She let them have a men-only talk and turned to thank the little boy for keeping good company to her daughter. When she squatted before him, she noticed the black stone hanging by the prince’s neck. He’d been so busy jumping and playing with Ines that he hadn’t realized his secret talisman sat now shining brightly over his clothes. Inerishia refrained her impulse of touching the talisman, and began with a soft voice, “Thank you, Your Highness, for protecting our girl.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I only did what I had to do,” he said, overcome with emotion, delighted by the fairy aspect of Ines’ mother. The intense color of her azure eyes and ginger hair was something he’d only seen in his naïve drawings with colored pencils.

Inerishia took a close look at the talisman, her intuition telling her that was not a normal necklace. Its shape, its unique frame, and decorations, she recognized them immediately. “You have such a beautiful necklace. Who gave it to you?” she asked.

Soris hurried to hide the stone back under his clothes. “It’s a secret,” he replied, avoiding eye-contact, regretting he couldn’t talk freely with the beautiful fairy.

“Was it a tall man with grey hair?” she insisted.

Soris glanced at her in surprise then lowered his eyes to the ground, keeping quiet. That attitude was enough of an answer to Inerishia. She got up, with a confused expression on her face, trying to piece together some information and memories from a long time ago.

In the meantime, Kendel was explaining to the general that Ines would have to stay longer in his care. “Our mission is going to last about six months, so we’ll have to trouble you with this. She needs to be in somebody’s care. Someone we can trust, and at this moment that is nobody else than you. I’m sorry, Waltario.”

“That’s fine. I don’t mind,” the general said. “It’s just that we need to talk some details. What name should I call her? I understand that you want everything to be a secret, but she’ll need a name if she has to stay here.”

Kendel nodded his head in approval, glad that Constantine was paying attention to such details. He hadn’t thought about that. He’d been so drained of energy during the battle that his power of thinking was now weak compared to his normal days. “Well, let me ask my wife about this. Darling, what should they call our daughter?”

“Selunia.”

Kendel turned around with raised eyebrows. “Whoa, that was quick. But anyway, I really like that name.” He repeated that name a few times to himself then returned to Constantine. “General, you may now call her Selunia.”

“So she’s Selunia Karleyani,” Constantine noted to himself.

The boy paid close attention, remembering that name.

“Well, it’d be better if you didn’t use that last name either,” Inerishia said.

“Oh, all right.”

As they were deciding on the last name, Soris went to the girl with increasing excitement. “So you do have a name but it has to remain a secret.”

Selunia nodded in approval.

“Okay. I get that. I have my secret, too. But your last name truly is Karleyani, right?” he insisted, intrigued by the mystery around his new playmate.

“Yes. That’s true. But that’s also a secret,” she reminded him, awkwardly trying to wink at him.

Soris laughed then said in order to get used to the change, “Selunia, you have a beautiful name.”

Kendel turned around and smiled hearing the prince pronouncing that name, but then as much as he liked it, something made him overly-curious. Why had his wife chosen a name that would match the prince’s name? Selunia was definitely referring to the moon while Soris was obviously related to the sun. He looked at Inerishia and saw that she had a serious expression on her face, too serious for their happy family reunion.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter!

P.S.: The final chapter was too long to be posted as only one chapter, so this is not the final chapter.

Chapter 10 – The Fire – Part II (The Prequel)

Waltario put a cloth on Ines, “Here, kid. You must be cold. This mist has a certain chilly air around it,” he said, glancing at the dense mat of clouds. The loud claps of thunder made the girl cower and wrap herself in the olive-colored blanket. It felt so soft and warm, that she could drop back to sleep in a second. Still, riding such a bizarre metal beast was way too exciting to fall asleep. It cut through the air smoothly like the wind, sweeping above the dusty road barely leaving any trace.

Waltario was maintaining a constant, calm speed. He didn’t want to reach home too quickly as he had to make up some lie before bringing the child in the palace. Lying was a difficult thing for him. Although his strategic and fighting skills were much appreciated, his father had always scolded him for being blunt. Being honest in every situation could turn into his disadvantage, but Martin liked that. As a king, he’d wished to have someone who could never lie to him. Constantine, on the other hand, admired Martin’s artfulness in conversations and was determined to grasp some of that. So far, in important international conferences, when some internal things were better to remain a secret, he kept silent most of the time and just nodded to whatever the king was saying, marveling at how deceiving wordings can be.

“Oh, that’s Master Astute,” he heard the girl’s crystalline voice, which disrupted his flow of thoughts. Close into the distance, he saw a man stepping out from the misty forest and positioning himself in the middle of the road as to block their way. He wore a brown cloak like most of the Arid Kingdom travelers and, hadn’t Ines recognized him, Waltario couldn’t have told he was the White Castle’s commandant. Before stopping the vehicle, Constantine whispered to Ines, “Cover your face well and don’t look at him. He mustn’t find out who you are.” Ines listened to him and drew the blanket over her excited eyes. This entire secrecy game was starting to get fun.

Waltario got off and walked toward the quiet commander. After the strange and persistent Rainbow Mist, he was sure Astute had some explanations to give his neighboring state. Or maybe it was really bad news and the White Castle wanted to announce them that the war was getting out of their control. Waltario’s steps became draggy for the last couple of yards before reaching the commander who slightly bowed his head instead of saluting. Constantine did the same while trying to read something on his face.

“General Waltario, our meeting here must remain a secret,” Astute said with his diplomatic smile.

“I know. What—”

Astute’s icy eyes shifted to Ines. “Who’s the girl?” he asked, a clap of thunder joining his voice.

Waltario’s breath was cut off. His lie wasn’t ready yet, but that didn’t mean he would give himself away. He clenched his jaws and curled his fists only to realize his right hand was already shaking. One deep breath and he maintained his gaze expressionless, his mind concentrating on keeping his right hand still. His father had taught him to never allow his hand to involuntarily lift up to the back of his head. That could instantly betray his nervousness. But so far so good. His right hand was tense like an arrow in a bow.

“She’s a… she’s… from there. I mean, but why…?” he stammered, trying to make up a lie right on the spot. It was a useless struggle. Words were impossible to find and his left hand was already resting on the nape of his neck.

Astute watched him for a second then his smile turned into a smirk. “All right. You don’t have to tell me. I understand. A divorce doesn’t end so easily.”

They both started to laugh, Constantine feeling relieved and embarrassed at the same time. He had to consider himself lucky things had turned out this way without him saying anything clearly.

“What brings you here?” he asked to divert the discussion.

Astute let out a sigh. “Today’s ambush was a heavy blow to my soldiers, but thankfully, we managed to come out to light. You did well to block the circulation around here. I came because I heard a man of yours had been attacked.”

“Oh, it was nothing. Your soldiers did an awesome job of keeping everything covered by the mist. The merchant is safe now, and don’t worry, he hasn’t seen any of your people or your fighting techniques.”

“Good. I put out the fire on that carriage you left behind. I apologize on behalf of my community for failing to keep our troubles within our boundaries.”

“It’s fine. Nothing of great consequence happened, so we’re not going to make a fuss about this,” Waltario assured him, knowing that this talk was mostly a custom rather than showing real concern. Most of the White Castle members were too arrogant to care about the simple inhabitants of the Arid Kingdom. But the continental supervisors, the Central Palace, were eager to give punishments to those who failed to maintain the peace between the states, so despite their superiority, the White Castle had to abide by the rules, too. 

“Thank you,” Astute replied, making to leave. “Then keep the road blocked until tomorrow to give my people enough time to clean up the mess the devils did today.”

“Sure.”

Master Astute glanced again at the girl who was having fun cloaking herself in the military blanket. “You picked a dangerous day to take her out,” he said, intrigued to find out more about the general’s personal affairs.

Constantine shrugged and chuckled shortly as he’d learned from Martin to be one of the best answers in delicate situations. It worked.

A bit disappointed, Astute said his farewell, then walked back into the foggy forest, vanishing in the eerie atmosphere. Waltario finally relaxed his shoulders and went to the vehicle, amusing himself to see Ines wrapped in the blanket like a mummy. He slid a finger to lift the covering on her purple eyes. “You’re having fun, aren’t you?” he said, then turned around immediately as he heard a chorus of alarmed voices.

“General! Are you all right?”

His soldiers from the barrier had come to check on him. Astute had definitely planned well his appearance and disappearance. Perfect timing to go away before others could see him.

Constantine approached them. “I’m fine. It was just a mild fire after lightning had struck a tree.”

He saw his soldiers’ smiles stretching under the helmet’s protective glasses. “We were so worried,” one of them said. “We thought something really bad had happened when we saw the merchant’s horse jumping over the barrier and running wildly.”

“Yeah. It had foam at its mouth,” said another.

They all laughed, glad that their general was safe and sound. “Where’s the merchant?”

“I sent him to the watchtower. He was too scared to walk this way along the mist.”

The soldiers nodded, then turned their heads in Ines’ direction. The general stiffened once again.

“I can’t believe someone would let their children go and play in this area,” one said.

“Maybe she got lost,” other commented.

“Maybe she’s a beggar.”

“Or an orphan.”

The soldiers started chattering on that subject each wondering about how their general had found the child. Still, none of them dared to ask the question directly, so Constantine was relieved he could postpone the process of thinking of a proper lie. All well until Price Soris arrived and ran to the vehicle. “Oh, Princess! Are you all right?” he asked, peeking under the makeshift hood which nodded.

The prince had done his best to follow the soldiers after the frightened horse had passed by. Everyone was too focused on getting to the general as soon as possible, so they forgot about him resting in the tent.

Waltario watched the soldiers’ puzzled faces then went to the prince, ignoring the murmur of questions that started behind his back.

“So this was your princess,” he said, laying a hand on the boy’s shoulder. Soris turned around and looked up with gratitude. “Thank you, general.”

“I should thank both of you. If it weren’t for you two, the merchant might have died or at least gotten hurt today.”

Soris grinned and Ines snuck out her head to lift a smile at him. Waltario watched their bright faces for a moment, remembering the talk with the king and Inerishia’s letter, then commented to himself, heaving a sigh, “Now I have two kids in my care.”

The two started giggling then Ines suddenly remarked, “Oh, the bottle!” She lowered a sad gaze on the boy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t find it.”

Soris nodded then hung his head. “It’s all right,” he mumbled, digging in the road’s earth with his foot. “We’ll get it next time.”

“The carriage is still there. We can go search for it now,” the general said, bringing back the hope to both of them.

Soris rejoiced and jumped on the vehicle’s saddle. “Let’s search for it together!”

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. Thank you all for your support!

(Next chapter is going to be the last one.)

Chapter 10 – The Fire – Part I (The Prequel)

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The carriage’s wheels creaked awkwardly as the merchant was having a hard time coaxing the horse to turn around. Waltario watched them struggling to execute a series of back and forth movements, avoiding getting close to the misty wall that covered the tumultuous battle between the White Castle soldiers and the devils. As long as the fog wasn’t expanding onto the road, Constantine was certain the danger was limited.

The back wheels rolled close to his boots, the curtained windows of the wagon catching his attention. Could there really be a princess inside? And a liqueur bottle with a hidden message? Constantine wanted to check the contents of the carriage, but then if he were to find a young lady inside, he would have to give the merchant some explanations, putting everyone in a delicate situation, especially the supposed princess. Waltario sighed then checked the piece of crystal of his odd vehicle to refrain his curiosity. He would find a better opportunity to verify the young prince’s words.

When they were finally ready to return, the merchant wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “All right, Jackie, we’re fine now,” he said, clutching the bridles tightly. “Don’t you ever think of starting to run again.” Jack shook its head and snorted.

“I hope that’s a yes,” the merchant grumbled, narrowing his eyes.

As they were about to set out, a loud thunder reverberated all over, and out of the misty forest, a flaming tree crashed upon the wagon setting it on fire. The merchant yelled for help, almost collapsing on the ground as the horse snatched itself free from his grasp and started galloping madly. Fire arrows came flying out of the mist, arching in the air, so Constantine grabbed the scared-stiff merchant by the collar and dragged him to the other side of the road. The arrows thrust into the earth, burning quickly. It was unclear whether they’d targeted them or arrived there accidentally.

“The road is too dangerous,” the general said, after some thought. “Run through the clear forest straight ahead. There’s a watchtower nearby and my men are going to notice you immediately.”

“But what if the bandits are there?” the merchant gibbered with wide eyes.

“Trust me. They’re only in the mist otherwise they would’ve been caught by my men. Go now!”

The general’s commanding voice followed by a determined slap on the back set the merchant in motion. He quickly found a path in the peaceful woods and followed it mindlessly, tripping on small pieces of rocks and crushing dry twigs under his desperate steps. Meanwhile, Constantine mounted his flying vehicle and started at full speed to catch the horse from behind. In just a couple of seconds, he could see its long mane flaring behind, undulating fluidly like a black flame. The burning tree had fallen on the road, but the fire on carriage’s roof did not cease. On the contrary, it expanded quickly, destroying the delicate wooden carvings. If a girl really was inside that wagon, her life was in danger and Constantine had to hurry up. Right behind the horse now, he drew his sword out and prepared to aim precisely at the traces that kept the carriage tied to the bewildered horse. The noise was definitely going to scare the horse even more, so he had to act quickly.

Jack neighed and swerved a little, making things more difficult. Constantine rearranged his position and held his breath as he slashed the traces with two powerful sword blows. Jack ran away even faster now that he was free, but Constantine was worried about something else. He got off and hurried to open the wooden wagon’s doors. A little girl with long black hair lay unconscious on the planking of the floor as the fire stretched on the roof, spilling dark smoke in the air. Waltario quickly took Ines in his arms and stepped away from the wagon. After checking her pulse, he looked at Ines’ face and commented to himself, “That boy didn’t tell me you were such a young princess. You’re lucky I’ve listened to him otherwise—”

He stopped talking as he noticed the girl opening her eyes and curiously lifting them at him. The prince hadn’t been lying when he’d said she’d had lilac eyes. Somehow their strange familiarity was making the general feel uneasy. Where had he seen something similar before?

“General Waltario?” the girl asked after thoroughly analyzing his eagle badge.

Constantine shuddered. How did she know his name?

“Yes. I am General Waltario,” he confirmed, after some hesitation.

“It’s for you,” she said, handing over the piece of paper hidden at her chest.

Constantine let the girl rest on his vehicle’s saddle, then took the letter and unfolded it, reading the first line:

General Waltario,

This letter is for you only so don’t share it with anybody else, not even with the king.

Constantine frowned, but then eagerly continued to read, his nervousness growing with each word.

I am Inerishia K. from the White Castle and I’m going to need your help. The little girl who gave you this letter is my daughter and I need you to take care of her until I return. Do not reveal this to anyone.

Nobody, not even the White Castle, has to know she’s in your palace. Please keep her origins a secret. Until I come back, she has no parents and is a simple girl from your kingdom. That’s all you can say about her. For the sake of our old promise, please help me keep her safe.

Thank you.

Inerishia K.

Constantine read the letter once again to make sure he’d understood it correctly, then he crumpled it in his hands and threw it in the fire. As he watched it burn to ashes, he thought about those words. Inerishia, that unique name, brought back many memories from the times Martin was not yet king. That strange ginger-haired woman with incredible powers that had helped them bring the future queen safely to their palace… The letter was definitely hers. Waltario had sworn to help her and Kendel with whatever he could in the future, and here it was. That time had come.

He gazed at the mist. It all made sense. Since the White Castle was definitely under attack, Inerishia had to send the child to a safe place. Worry took root in him. If the White Castle wasn’t able to win this fight, then what would happen to their kingdom? Why had Inerishia asked to keep everything a secret even from her kin? Was this war hidden by the Rainbow Mist a battle even they could not win?

Arrows screeched through the air right above his head. Constantine cautiously turned around and walked to his vehicle. “Little girl, I’m going to protect you,” he said, patting the girl on her shoulder. “We’re going to talk more after I get you to a safe place.” He mounted his vehicle and started for the palace. Remembering the bottle of liqueur, he glimpsed back then shook his head. Safety first. He would return for it later.

Part II coming soon! I hope you enjoyed this post!

Chapter 9 – The Power of the Sea (The Prequel)

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Waves washed the bloody shore of the messy beach where many corpses of demons lay scattered. Lady Gladiole stood among them and gazed at the line where the faraway bright sky touched the abyssal blue of the sea. Kendel’s home island was the only visible piece of land that ruined the perfect beauty of the horizon. Before Kendel’s unfortunate appearance in her daughter’s life, Smarald Island had used to be a beautiful view. The unique vegetation of trees with large leaves and bright green trunks was a wonder to marvel at, but it now turned to be a bad memories carrier.

Tired soldiers passed by obstructing the lady’s sight. Walking in pairs, leaning against their partner, they threaded their way to the improvised recovery center at the base of the cliff. Their armor wasn’t as sturdy as the Aridens’ as it was adapted to fit each one’s magical skills. It offered slight protection but helped them move easily and use their abilities without restriction. However, that cost them many wounds.

Gladiole had only a few injuries around her arms that were slowly fading, returning the skin to its initial flawless state. Although the storm clouds still circled above, the battle on the beach was over, so she took her time to meditate with a dubious faint smile on her face. She heard a rustle coming from the forest behind her, but that didn’t disturb her icy eyes from keeping their stare on the distance.

Shion, the shape-shifter, emerged from behind a curtain of broken trees and burnt branches, one hand squeezing the other to force some healing on a bleeding injury. He tottered to the lady and reported, “The devils managed to pass through the barriers. They almost killed a human.”

“Master Astute will take care of that,” she replied blandly.

Shion lost his voice for a moment at that reply, but then made a brave step forward. “The battle isn’t over in the forest. My lady, shouldn’t we do something about the clouds?”

The woman chuckled ignoring his question. “She’s crying,” Gladiole said with satisfaction.

Shion’s brows furrowed in a confused frown. “I’m sorry? Who’s crying?” he asked, searching around the beach to see someone crying. There was not a single soldier without wounds, but none of them cried. They were struggling to reach the cliff’s rocks, their faces expressing relief as they had finished their missions. Shion couldn’t find any demon that still moved, and besides that, he was certain there was no female among them.

Gladiole curled her thin lips, eyes barely blinking as if she were in a trance. “I can hear her wherever she may be. That man must have died. Finally, Kendel is gone. Now there’s only his daughter left.” She swiveled her neck to her left to glimpse at the mute visitor and asked, “Did you find out where Inerishia hid the child?”

Caught by a shiver of fear, Shion took one step back. He’d never imagined his superior would be interested in someone’s death. Feeling pressured, he managed to find the words to reply, “No. I did not. But shouldn’t we be concerned about the current matters? Our members got hurt.” He dared to lock eyes with her. “Besides, I don’t think Master Astute will agree to us not helping Kendel at all.”

Gladiole turned around to properly face her brazen underling. “You dare judge my commands?” She assessed the red stains on his forehead and temples that made his long wet hair shine even greener. A foolish boy who cared for the life of his love rival, Gladiole thought, noticing the sense of guilt glimmering in his dark irises. “Do you wish dust to be your last shape from now until forever?” she added sarcastically.

Shion lowered his chin, refusing to confront her. He did not want to take part in Gladiole’s plans anymore as he realized they were only going to hurt Inerishia. He started limping toward the recovery tents, hoping that what the lady had said about Kendel was not true. He bit his tongue, regretting he’d helped her stalk the couple.

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Surrounded by the susurrus of the sea waves, Inerishia lay on the dock still trying to heal Kendel who had lost his consciousness. Her vision was blurred both by tears and exhaustion, her senses not reacting to the drops of salty water that fell on her open injuries. The man’s body was getting colder under her faintly glowing hands, yet there was no way she would give up on Kendel’s life. Not so easily. However, despite her endeavors, the poison was still present, continuing to drain the life out of Kendel.

A sudden bigger wave poured over her feet, awakening her from the numb concentration. She took a moment to give her hands a chance to recharge, but then slumped to one side, dizzied by her relentless fight and the hurricane of emotions. She covered her eyes with the back of her hand, dreaming a solution. Maybe if she could last a whole day sustaining a slow healing process, Kendel would be able to say her name again. They would return to the stronghold and drink a rejuvenating tea, take some hours of rest and then think of their tomorrow mission, and maybe along the journey, they would find a peaceful place away from Gladiole and move there. But what about their daughter?

The sea became turbulent at the base of the rock Kendel sat on, so Inerishia made an effort to push herself to a seating position. The waves were now avoiding the rock, but the water seemed to boil. Could Divian come back to enjoy his victory and mock at her misery? She hoped not.

The boiling calmed down and then, all of a sudden, a hand thrust out of the spiral of bubbles, grasping for land. A second later, a fair-haired head popped out gasping for air, and laughing with joy. Inerishia winced and almost hit the shaggy appearance with a shard of stone, stopping only when the spray of water fell and revealed the face of an enthusiastic acquaintance.

“Marol!” she exclaimed, watching the man scrabbling up on the rock, right next to Kendel.

“Words later, dear sister-in-law.” Marol spoke rapidly, Inerishia not getting anything from his garble. But she didn’t need to understand him. She beamed with hope when he saw the man covering Kendel’s injury with both hands and attempting some powerful healing.

“It was poison,” she mumbled, leaning back on her elbow to take some rest. “It was poison, Marol,” she said louder, thinking the savior hadn’t heard her.

Marol didn’t say anything, his glee face from before being now replaced by a concentrated frown. Inerishia couldn’t understand how he’d managed to arrive here in such a tense moment, but she didn’t need to know. What mattered was that Marol was seen as an outcast just like Kendel, so he was the only one who would break any rules to save his sworn brother. They both had come from the same island and, just like Kendel, he had been at first misunderstood to be one of the White Castle’s kind. After the nature of his powers had been discovered, he’d been labeled an intruder, but he’d been luckier than Kendel. His in-laws had taken his side and defended him in front of the stronghold’s leaders.

“Come, already, Ken. You hate tragedies,” Marol grumbled, as he could tell the poison had been removed and he proceeded with the flesh healing.

Inerishia sat still, waiting for a sign from Kendel. Why wasn’t he saying anything? Maybe Marol had arrived too late. Why hadn’t he come earlier?

The water simmered once again, gentle waves bathing the rock’s margin. Marol’s wife was probably going to appear too, Inerishia presumed. The two were a couple that nobody and nothing could break apart, just like she and Kendel were—or maybe used to be.

“Did his eyelids move?” Marol asked, perusing his patient’s face. “Inerishia, could you check his breath for me? Gosh, why did stomach become so rigid?” he commented probing and prodding his friend, looking forward to some reaction.

The woman strained to stretch herself over to Kendel grabbing his face with both hands. “Kendel?” she whispered weakly.

Marol withdrew his hands as the wound was gone now. He watched Inerishia trying to shake some sense into her husband, then he let his gaze down to hide his dismay.

“We were just taking a detour when we met with the others. They said they’d been informed to return because some war started along the beach.” Marol went on explaining. “Since no one announced us, I figured out something was wrong, so I had to come. Lady Gladiole has been really weird lately. I understand why she would hate Kendel, but still, too much is too much. I hope she’ll get punished this time.” He stopped, holding back the resentful thoughts he had against the White Castle’s rules.

“Kendel?” Inerishia asked once again with a clear voice, hoping that the warmth she felt under her palms was not her own.

Kendel opened one eye, then swiftly shut it back. Inerishia watched him without blinking. Maybe she had started to have hallucinations.

“Can I hear you calling me again?” Kendel said, opening both eyes. Before he could hear anything else, his wife wrapped him in a suffocating embrace.

“Kendel! You’re back!” Inerishia cried, resurrecting the joy on Marol’s forlorn face.

As a happy chattering bloomed among the three, another head came out of the water. It was Beline, Marol’s wife, just like Inerishia had surmised.

Noticing that they were happy, Beline took her time to brush away the water dripping on her face and citrine hair, and stopped the glow on her body that had helped her swim rapidly under the sea. When she wanted to greet everyone, Marol dashed to cover her vision. “Wait! Don’t look at him!” he demanded, pouting at Kendel. “He barely has clothes on.”

Beline chuckled and tried to remove his blocking. “Oh, come on, Marol. He’s not naked,” she said.

“You are not allowed to see some other man’s chest,” Marol stated with an exaggerated military voice.

“Why?”

“Why are you even asking? You just shouldn’t!” he protested, mostly intending to joke. He’d always thought his friend was somehow more handsome than him.

Inerishia and Kendel laughed at the two, then held hands, gazing at each other, thankful that they got out of trouble.

“So where is our daughter now?” Kendel asked.

“She should be safe. I really hope so, though my vision in the morning said only one of you two will survive.”

“Is that why you didn’t want to tell me?”

Inerishia nodded, slipping into a meditative state, wondering whether Ines was doing well at the Aridens’ castle. It felt like a whole day had passed.

“Am I not allowed to know where exactly she is?” Kendel insisted, growing impatient.

The woman tilted her head toward the beach to suggest the danger that was still there. She knew Gladiole’s hearing abilities, so she didn’t want to risk revealing where she’d hid the little girl.

“She’s with your parents, haven’t I told you? Maybe we’ll visit her after the mission,” she said, squeezing his hands.

Kendel smiled and nodded as he understood the secret message. They now shared the same worry.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoyed this chapter!

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Chapter 8 – Magical Battle in the Mist (The Prequel)

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Waltario’s two-seat vehicle swept through the open gates of the palace out onto the road. It flew one foot above the earth without making any noise. Sitting astride on it, the prince, clothed in a brown hooded robe, marveled at the speed and the sleekness of the vehicle. It was like a long horse’s back made of steel plates with a comfortable saddle for two passengers. It had no wheels as it was designed to fly, and it was powered by a big piece of crystal which sat hidden in the front case, glowing bright yellow. Some plates on one side of the vehicle were missing offering view to a cluttering of wires and tubular iron objects, as Constantine still had some fixes to add. Nevertheless, the prince gaped joyously in every direction, fascinated by this metal thing that could fly and take them fast and smoothly to their destination. Its creator was proud of it, too.

“You see these wheel tracks, my prince?” Waltario asked looking ahead on the path banked by tall trees.

The prince nodded, swiveling his head to look around the vehicle.

“They are going to lead us to the carriage,” the general explained. “Now, hold tight. I’m going to try to go even faster.”

He squeezed the antler-like handles of the vehicle and, with a jolt, it accelerated, the foliage around seeming to mingle into a long green wall. Soris was pushed back against the general’s chest armor as his clutch onto some knobs on the casing hadn’t proven to be reliable. Regaining his balance, he pulled up the hood and gasped with fascination. Rainbow Mist was so close and big, looming like a canopy of clouds above the treetops of the forest on their right.

In just a couple of minutes, they reached a fork in the road and the wooden barrier the Ariden soldiers had set. Waltario halted, but then a frown darkened his face. The tracks were visibly going behind the barrier and a dust cloud could be grasped in the distance. When he turned his head in the guards’ direction, they all winced and gave an awkward bow.

“Did the merchant pass by here?” he asked, without leaving his place.

The soldiers mumbled some answer as they elbowed one another to step forward. No answer was required. The general took the boy with both arms and put him on the ground.

“Your Highness, I’m going to leave you here for now. It’s too dangerous to take you on a road that’s so close to the mist.”

The boy protested, but the general didn’t stall to listen to his complaints. The vehicle flew above the barrier and sped after the merchant’s carriage. Soris watched him shrinking into the distance. When two soldiers came to him, he let his shoulders drop and obediently followed them to a temporary tent they’d erected in the safe forest on the left side of the road.

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The merchant was driving his carriage without care when suddenly he noticed a fallen tree across the road. He commanded the horse to slow down. “Bandits?” he wondered, scanning the surroundings. Could the thieves be so bold and use the mist to their advantage? Many soldiers were patrolling the area. It couldn’t be.

The merchant stopped the horse and leaped down from his seat, listening carefully around. The wind was weak, barely moving the leaves, but some loud tree crashes echoed now and then. The merchant dared to walk closer to the misty forest, peering through the branches fading in clouds of ever-floating white particles. Even an eagle wouldn’t be able to see through that, so how could a bunch of thieves manage to hide and watch the road by hiding in the fog? A clasp of thunder made him jump back calling his ancestors’ names. Some natural phenomena. Why was he so scared? The horse shook its brown head, oblivious of its eerie surroundings.

The man pounded a fist against his chest to summon his courage, then marched to the fallen tree. At close range, the obstacle was a slim young tree that he could easily remove. The merchant put his hands on his hips and laughed at himself. “These superstitions…” He pushed the trunk to a side, then returned to the carriage. The horse started walking again as his master instructed him to. The merchant kept an eye on the mist, acknowledging the risk he was taking by traveling so close to it. Thieves could lurk in the forest without being noticed and trees could fall right on his carriage or horse. He put his hat on and pulled his collar up, the chill air sending shivers down his spine.

The misty forest belonged to the White Castle, marking the boundary between their small territory and the Arid Kingdom’s land. Some rumors said that many queer things had happened to those who ventured deep into that forest and that the White Castle inhabitants didn’t welcome strangers.

The merchant had taken his eyes away from the forest, when all of a sudden a loud snap made his heart stop beating. Another tree had fallen right behind his carriage, then another two fell in the forest, their canopies dropping on the road in front of them, covering half of it. Sensing danger, the horse panicked and started galloping wildly past the obstacles and sped up with each new crack or snap that echoed from the forest. The merchant tried to regain control of it, but the horse didn’t respond anymore to the reins’ movement. It ran mindlessly, stimulated by fear. The man searched for a whistle in his chest pocket, one of his best tricks to calm down the horse. When he finally managed to blow the whistle loudly, the horse slowed down its pace. The merchant wiped his forehead and let out a sigh of relief, but then, as he looked around, fear crippled him once again. The mist was everywhere. It had stretched onto this part of the road, blocking their vision. Maybe the horse hadn’t reacted to the whistle but to the fog.

“You damn horse,” he cursed, barely seeing the animal’s back. “You walked us right into the fog.” He searched for a lamp in his bag and lit it up, then left his seat and took the horse by the bridle.

“All right, Jack. Let’s walk together now. It shouldn’t take too long to reach the plains. We’ve traveled a lot already,” he spoke to the horse, hoping it would understand his words. Now that they were walking side by side, hearing the animal’s breath and its clopping hooves, he didn’t feel alone anymore. As they advanced through the illusory cloud of cotton wool, the lamp didn’t prove to be of much help. At best, they could see one meter in front of them. “Jack, when we reach home, I’ll feed you well and let you rest. No more riding for you tomorrow,” the merchant mumbled to keep the fear at bay. The horse shook its head gently, so the merchant went on, “Oh, so one day is not fine? He, he, you want to sleep and play more. All right. Two days of vacation for you.”

Continuous furious snaps of branches made his mouth run dry. “It’s fine, Jackie,” he uttered, his voice breaking. The noise seemed to intensify and he was sure he was not mistaken when he heard some men’s grunting and heavy breathing as if they were fighting. One more tree fall swooshed close to the road and Jack reared on its hind legs, snatching itself free from the merchant’s grasp and doubling back. The merchant went numb from fear when he saw himself left alone in the mist.

“Jack, come here, boy,” he begged, trying hard to regain his composure. He broke into cold sweat when rushed footsteps approached him. How foolish of him to travel on a day like this. He shut his eyes as a strong arm wrapped around his shoulder pulling him close and bringing a knife to his neck.

The merchant dropped the lamp and raised his shaky hands in defense. “Spare my life,” he said, gulping to bring more power in his trembling voice. “Take everything from me, but spare my life. Please, spare my life!” he pleaded, standing on his toes as the attacker was much taller than him.

“Stand back or I’ll kill him!” he heard his attacker’s gruff voice. So there was somebody else out there in the mist. But how could they see each other through that fog? He wasn’t able to glimpse a shadow in that chalky cloud. He whispered a prayer, calling his grandmother’s name. The thief must have been some lunatic fighting with another lunatic, and he had fallen victim to their mad game in the Rainbow Mist. He shouldn’t have taken the general’s safety measures so lightly. But now it was too late to regret. The other person didn’t speak a word to defend him and he felt the blade touching his throat.

*

Soris sat on a soldier’s bag, playing with his fingers. Waltario had said he could do many things if he had a strategy, but he didn’t mention there were limits to everything. Being a cute, smart child didn’t mean he could take part in rescue missions. As he glanced up from time to time through the large door gap of the tent, he could tell the soldiers were very uncomfortable to have him around. Being a prince had both advantages and disadvantages, Teacher Coldpeak had always insisted on making him understand that.

He took out his pendant and stared at the dark piece of crystal. “I guess you’re not a good lucky charm,” he mumbled, nervous and frustrated that the liqueur bottle had disappeared along with his princess. Lady Voronchi’s sardonic laughter replayed in his ears making him shut his eyes with indignation. He didn’t want to admit defeat.

A warm hand pressed on his shoulder, so he opened his eyes and looked up. “Master!” he gasped, excitement returning to his face.

“Why do you still call me that, little Soris?” the man said, barely hinting a smile.

“You’re the one who taught me many things and gave me this lucky charm. I’ve missed you, Master.” The boy got up and clutched the hand of the tall visitor. He was a man with a fair complexion that failed to reveal his real age. Watching his profile, one could’ve said he was in his late twenties, and when he turned a little he could’ve been any age between thirty and fifty. His eyes, however, reflected the wisdom of a centenarian.

“I sensed you summoning the talisman’s power. Was I wrong?” he asked, squatting to read the child’s expression.

Soris glanced at the man’s short, graying hair then started recounting all the events that lead him in his current situation.

“It was urgent, so I had to call the crystal’s power,” he added as a conclusion, noticing a slight frown of disapproval on his mentor’s face.

“It was urgent, but it didn’t threaten your life, nor the kingdom’s future. Haven’t I taught you that?”

The boy hung his head, yet in his heart, he was happy to have his mentor scolding him. He’d always felt this man was the only one who treated him like an adult, never seeing him as a kid. “Yes. But you don’t need to worry. The pendant didn’t do anything,” he replied.

The man heaved a sigh then told him, “Never do that again. I won’t be here for the next few years, so I want to be sure you’re not going to do anything foolish in my absence.”

“I’ll be good. I promise. But why do you have to go?”

The man stood up and looked toward the mist in the distance. “Things are getting complicated. My stay in this area seems to bring trouble, so I must go and solve what comes from outside  of the continent.”

The boy blinked repeatedly trying to figure out what exactly he was referring to. “But you’re going to return, right?”

“Maybe. If you want me to return, you better behave yourself,” the mentor replied with a stern face.

Soris clasped his hands at his back and nodded politely. “I will.”

“Good,” he said, pulling the hood of his long coat over his head. He then snuck out of the tent as enigmatically as he’d come in, leaving the prince staring at the door. His friendship with this man was a secret he’d been keeping from anyone, mostly because he was convinced that this mentor was a special person.

*

Constantine rode his flying vehicle until it reached the area where the mist spread across the road, breaking its normal limits. He halted and pondered what to do next. He knew the mist could be also the White Castle’s doing to hide whatever was going on into their woods, so going through it could mean he was entering their fight. Still, the carriage tracks were not stopping there. After some heavy rustling in the forest, he heard the horse’s frightened neigh and then the merchant’s desperate cry, “Spare my life, please! Somebody help me!”

At first, the general rushed to turn on the vehicle’s powerful lamp, but then he thought it would be better if no one knew of his presence. He took a knife and two guns from the vehicle’s side pockets and equipped himself with one of his lamp-inventions, then crouched low through the mist and looked ahead. Just as he’d surmised, the fog was slowly settling over the road, so the ground was mostly clear. He advanced carefully, noticing the carriage’s wheels, then the horse backing steps, and then three pairs of men’s boots. He recognized the merchant’s black shoes standing close to some shiny boots covered with silvery scales. Close to them, were some green boots with golden details which the general guessed they belonged to a White Castle soldier. He shook his head annoyed by the merchant’s reckless obstinacy to take this road home. Interfering in this fight could mean breaking their laws and agreements with the White Stronghold, so he waited to see what the green soldier would choose to do despite the merchant’s pitiful cries.

“Let him go. If you do, I’ll spare your life,” a determined voice said.

“Heh, why would I believe you?” the demon snickered, slowly taking steps backward, dragging the merchant after him.

“He seems serious. You should believe him,” the merchant recommended although it was obvious no one would listen to him.

Waltario prepared a gun, readying himself to attack when suddenly he noticed some movement. A pair of leather boots passed by him almost flying then caught the demon off guard and killed him. The enemy fell to the ground, and the merchant was released, yet he did not know which way to go.

Everything had happened so fast, that it took a few moments for the general to get back to his senses and shout at the poor victim, “Crouch! Get on your knees!”

The merchant mumbled some scared shrieks and words then dropped to his knees, unaware that his savior and the other White Castle soldier had taken the demons’ body and fled. Shaking on the ground, it took a while until he looked in the general’s direction.

“Walk this way,” Constantine beckoned to him.

“Oh, General! Thank you!” the merchant exclaimed, tears blurring his vision. “I’m terribly sorry I didn’t listen to you.”

“We’ll talk about that later. Now let’s get you out of here. Come and help me move your horse and carriage backward.”

Although pale from the terrifying experience, the merchant found some strength to get to the general, then making use of Waltario’s powerful lamp, as well as squatting from time to time to determine whether they were going in the right direction, they managed to get the carriage out of the mist.

“I’ll turn Jack around and I should be able to go back,” the merchant explained in a low voice revealing a mixture of shame, regret, and guilt.

As he did so, the general went to his vehicle and took a moment to let out a sigh of relief. The most difficult part of the trip should be over now.

Thank you for reading this chapter! I hope you enjoyed it!

Chapter 7 – Unsteady Destiny (The Prequel)

 

3

Soris came out of the building and went galloping after the carriage which was just wheeling out through the gates. “Wait! Stop!” he screamed in vain, continuing to run even after the gates had been closed. A guardian stepped before him. “Your Highness, what’s the matter?”

The boy fumbled as he couldn’t find the right words to say. “Soldier, please stop that cart!”

“I’m sorry?”

Soris pointed at the road. “That cart… we must stop it.”

The soldier looked backward, through the metal gates, and watched the dust clouds that had remained behind the carriage.

“My apologies, Your Highness. It’s already gone now,” he answered, not taking the boy seriously.

Soris clutched his hair with both hands. “Oh, what am I going to do?”

He paced up and down, overwhelmed by regrets while the guard’s gaze swung after his nervous movements, curious to guess what was troubling the prince, but also amused by the adult-like act. Moments later, the boy snapped his fingers and glanced up at the soldier with hope, “Has General Waltario returned?”

“Yes. About ten minutes ago. I think he’s in his studio.”

The prince started for the main entrance of the palace, through the alley at his left. The general would definitely understand him and help him get Princess back and the coveted liqueur bottle, too. As he ran, he clutched the medallion secretly kept at his chest. “Come on, pretty stone. You were supposed to be my lucky charm. Give me the right ideas.”

As he hastened close to the hedge bounding the alley, Clark pounced behind him out of nowhere. “Prince Soris, don’t you dare to run away. Your awful behavior is beyond redemption. Stop right now if you still wish to be forgiven.”

The boy shrieked but didn’t dare to look back. “Oh, Clark! Not now, please!” he begged, feeling his legs tensing painfully with each speeding step. Clark’s shadow was stretching long, almost swallowing him. He could hear the supervisor’s panting and loud footsteps approaching him. A few more seconds and he would be caught. He gripped the medallion again, praying for a miracle, and when he took a glimpse at it, it did seem to give a swift bright flash under his fingers. Clinging on that hope, his gallop gained more speed and he managed to pass around the corner of the garden without getting caught.

“Prince Soris, you better stop!” Clark gasped, growing tired from the run.

Soris wasn’t going to listen to him. Not now when he was just a hundred meters away from the entry staircase. General Waltario stood up there, on the landing which led to the main entrance into the palace. Feeling that Clark was soon going to catch him, the child shouted at the top of his lungs, “General! Help me!”

Waltario, along with his brother and a few sergeants, lowered bewildered eyes into his direction. The boy’s hair was a mess, and his face red, a sight which melted the general’s heart in an instant. He marched down to him and grabbed him by the shoulders. “What is it, kid?” he asked, forgetting about speech formalities.

Clark pulled the prince back. “Leave him, general. He’s possessed by the Devil today. He’s caused nothing but trouble. Don’t listen to his nonsense.”

“No! General, please.” Soris clutched Waltario’s sleeve. “It’s important!”

The general read the despair in the boy’s coral eyes. He looked at Clark. “It’s fine. I got this. If he’s up to some prank, I’ll punish him myself.”

Clark huffed and puffed, but then he conceded and withdrew to his chamber.

General Waltario lifted the boy with one arm and swiftly brushed his wild hair. “Well, tell me. What’s the problem?”

The boy swallowed to bring his voice back. “The messenger… he’s gone,” he uttered.

Waltario stared at him in surprise, then started for the garden. After a few steps, he twisted his neck back to his crew to let them know, with a slight nod of his head, that he wanted to talk with the boy in private. His men acknowledged his wish and returned to their own discussion, taming their own curiosity.

Strolling aimlessly in the garden, through the boy’s answers to his patient questions, Constantine found out almost everything that had happened.

“And the princess is now in the carriage because of me! Help me get her back, please!” the prince cried.

The general pondered for a while taking the boy’s recount with a grain of salt. “Okay,” he consented. “I’ll go after that carriage, but you’re going to come with me. If that princess that you’re talking about is not there, then you’re going to take responsibility for this.” The boy nodded repeatedly, his wet bangs following the motion of his head. The general put him down. “We’re going to ride my experimental flying vehicle, so you better brace yourself.” Soris lifted his gaze with excitement.

*

Close the faraway beach, after fighting a number of demons, Inerishia propped herself against a tree trunk to catch her breath. Strands of hair soaked in sweat had stuck to her clammy skin, onto her neck and temples. She’d been able to heal her wounds here and there, but her ragged clothing still carried proof of her bleedings. Just as she pulled back a loosen sleeve over her shoulder, an arrow came her way. She dropped to her knees, the arrow piercing the bole. The war was not over yet, although the White Castle was on the advantage.

Inerishia took some sand then threw it in her attacker’s direction, just as he was approaching her. The particles spread and swelled into a cloud, blocking his vision, so Inerishia had enough time to call a blaze of wind and thrust him into a tree. She gave a sigh of relief and forced herself to stand up and search for her husband.

Kendel was nowhere to be seen, in fact, she hadn’t seen him at all during the fight, but nor did she see Divian. The dark clouds were still close to the treetops and she could only presume that the devils’ leader hadn’t been killed. As she put one step in front of the other, advancing to the shore where the sea played with calm waves, she noticed bodies of defeated demons lying scattered across the battered sand. White Castle members had been injured too, but they had been pulled close to the base of a nearby cliff where they were waiting to receive some healing treatment from their luckier comrades. But those were only a few, and they were always turning back to fight as soon as they determined the wounds had been healed past the critical state.

Under the protective shadow of the towering cliff, Inerishia checked every patient but still couldn’t find her husband.

“Have you seen Kendel?” she asked every healer she ran into. Some of them simply ignored her or shook their heads and slunk off immediately. After watching her for a while, one of the injured fighters lifted his head and said, “Maybe you should check the dock.”

Inerishia took that as a clear answer. She hurried in that direction and climbed on the short dock of rocks. As soon as she heard some heavy breathing, she cried out her husband’s name. “Kendel, are you there?” A few more steps and she saw him stretched uncomfortably onto a wide stone. She skidded down, kneeling at his side and grabbed his face with both hands. “Are you all right?” she asked, assessing his injuries.

The loose clothing had suffered greatly during the battle. Kendel was bare-chested now, covered in grazes and red markings. Pale-faced, he uttered with pinched lips, “That coward… he ran away.”

Inerishia took note of a bleeding wound on Kendel’s stomach so she hurried to heal it. A feeble glow came from her trembling hands then streamed onto the open injury pulling back the blood around and rushing to heal his insides.

“Where is our daughter?” Kendel forced himself to ask, heaving with exertion.

Concentrated on the difficult healing, Inerishia was late to reply. “She’s safe. I took her to the safest place.”

Kendel watched her with delirious wet eyes. “I want to see her again.”

“You will, don’t worry. Keep your energy because this wound seems hard to heal. Maybe it’s because my powers are weak now.”

Kendel shook his head then looked at the grey sky. “No,” he whispered. “It’s because it’s a poisoned wound.”

Fear lodged in his wife’s heart. “Of course!” she realized with terror. “Almost all their weapons had poison.” She pushed her palms against his wound and forced her energy to gush out. “Don’t worry. I’m going to heal you. I just need some time and… and…”

Her sight went dark for a moment, signaling that her diminishing powers had reached critical limits. When she opened her eyes, she was resting over Kendel, who had politely accepted her accidental embrace. She got up, embarrassment setting her blood back in motion.

“That wasn’t intentional,” she hurried to explain herself, tucking her hair behind the ears.

“Well, if this was our last embrace,” Kendel joked with sad eyes.

“Don’t say that. You’re not going to die!” Inerishia assured him, probing the wound. It had barely closed in a bit and the tissues were still showing resistance before her power, telling her the poison was still running through Kendel’s veins. She pressed on the wound, attempting to restart the healing process. Kendel grabbed her hand.

“Stop. It won’t work. You need to live,” he said.

“You need to live, too!” she replied with indignation.

“I’m sorry, but I think…”

She pushed his hand away. “I don’t want to hear that. I’m not letting you go. Don’t you dare to say goodbye!”

She stood and screamed for help, but no one even cared to glimpse at her, so she scrambled upon the rocks and tottered toward one of her friends.

“Please, help me with some healing,” she pleaded.

The other woman quickly analyzed her then said, “You look fine. It must be Kendel that needs help and I cannot help you with that. In fact, no one can. Your mother, Lady Gladiole is here and she forbade us to help him.”

Inerishia insisted and tried to coerce someone to help her, but it was in vain. She grew desperate at the thought that Kendel would die simply because no one dared to disobey Gladiole’s orders. Drained of magical powers and with scarce physical power left, Inerishia went to confront her mother who had just returned to the beach.

“Help me heal him,” she demanded, piercing Gladiole with a sharp gaze. “Why don’t you let the healers touch him?”

Gladiole watched her daughter and laughed wryly. “He’s not one of us. If he hadn’t been able to protect himself, then that’s his fate. Let him die.”

Inerishia pushed her mother back with angry arms. “How can you be so heartless? If he’s not like us, then he’s a human and we’ve sworn to protect the humans.”

Gladiole parried some arrows thrown at them, then said to her daughter, “Get your act together, Inerishia. The battle isn’t over yet. There’s no time to talk about your meaningless love.” Gladiole summoned the wind to lift her from the ground then flew away to fight with a crowd of devils.

Inerishia turned around and searched some compassion in her friends’ eyes. They were all avoiding her, keeping their gazes in the ground. Exhausted and emotionally drained, Inerishia couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. She ran back to Kendel, hoping her powers would be able to make a miracle or that at least she would still find him alive. She did not want to believe that her vision was coming true.

*

Hurrying his horse toward a road close to the forest where Rainbow Mist was hovering above, the merchant observed some soldiers in grey costumes waving him to stop.

“Damn it,” he cursed to himself. “When did these guys become so zealous?”

The merchant slowed down the horse, and got off the carriage, pretending to be clueless. “What’s the matter?” he asked the soldier who approached him.

“This road isn’t safe. Turn back and take a detour.”

“Oh, but I came this way just today and everything was fine,” the merchant insisted.

The soldier swung a bored hand toward the chalky fog. “It was fine until Rainbow Mist appeared. The general himself ordered that we don’t let anyone pass.”

The merchant drew a devastated hand to his chest. “Oh, but what am I going to do? The king himself has demanded me to go and repair some chairs and then return with them tomorrow. If I take a detour, I’m going to get back here only next week!”

The soldier shrugged and withdrew to his place. Stifling some swear words, the merchant went back to his carriage and lifted a bag he had kept under his seat. Among other things, the liqueur bottle lay there too, unlike how Ines believed that it had been stored in the back of the wagon.

He took out a scroll that bore the king’s seal and went to talk with the group of soldiers.

“Dear, hardworking men,” he said looking at each one of them, “I have the king’s permit to pass every road.”

The men noticed the seal and squirmed in their places.

“I see, but the general…” one of them managed to say.

“Has anything bad ever happened when the Rainbow Mist appeared?” the merchant asked with sly eyes. “I understand the general’s caution, but it’s just a rare, big fog that doesn’t affect these roads at all.”

They all scratched their heads, afraid to say anything. His reasoning made sense, especially when no one had reported that anything bad had happened during the Rainbow Mist phenomena. The dense fog was kept at bay by the tall trees of the forest on the right side of the road, so there wasn’t any problem with the visibility either. Still, they daren’t disobey Waltario’s orders.

Seeing their humble hesitation, the merchant felt he had the upper hand, so he continued, “As far as I know, if someone opposes the king’s wish, they shall be punished.”

The soldiers bowed their heads and kept silent. The merchant strode back to his carriage and got on. The horse started its march and passed by the soldiers who turned a blind eye to its passing. Guilt-stricken, they hurried to erect a barrier of wood to block the road and hoped that nothing hazardous would emerge from the mist.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoy this story!

 

Chapter 6 – Tricky Mission (The Prequel)

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In a distant watchtower of the Arid Kingdom, a group of soldiers was keeping an eye on the thick fog which swirled over the forbidden forest of the White Castle.

Standing by a window-gap in the round wall of stone bricks, Officer Dean rubbed his chin covered by a mat of brown hair and thought aloud, “It could be a natural phenomenon or something else. It’s the first time I see this with my own eyes and it’s so strange that it doesn’t expand away from the white stronghold’s area.”

A soldier staring with a pair of binoculars shouted, “I saw it again! I’m certain that was a human shadow with wings in that big cloud.”

Dean lifted a bushy eyebrow. “That could be just an illusion.”

The oak door of the room opened and General Waltario walked in, followed by his younger brother and two other officers.

Dean turned around in a blink and offered his respectful salutations, then hastened to say, “Sir, we’ve already set some boundaries around the danger zone. Thankfully, there weren’t many merchants coming today.”

“You did well,” Waltario assured him as he meandered closer to Dean’s window. “Give me some binoculars.”

The soldier from the other window handed over his. “I saw human allures in the cloud,” he said with startled young eyes.

With a flick of the wrist, Dean beckoned the soldier to retreat then turned to the general. “Sir, I presume this is what is called the Rainbow Mist.”

Constantine Waltario remained silent as he watched the fog through the magnified view. Now and then, flashes of light blasted between the moving cinder clouds. The Rainbow Mist was a public lie his father had created to cover up the strange happenings around the White Castle’s area to keep the people calm. It worked well to describe it like natural phenomena that came from the sea, but he knew it was not safe. Thankfully, it was always up to the White Castle to deal with the real causes of it.

The general let the binoculars down on the window ledge. “Yes. That’s the Rainbow Mist. Tell the soldiers not to stare at it to avoid getting caught in a fleeting illusion. Also, make sure no one passes by the streets around the fog. The roads will be open again after the fog disappears, understood?”

“Yes, sir!” Dean jumped in place to perform his bow, glad that his assumptions had been right.

Waltario left the room at calm pace followed by his crew, but then, as they climbed down the spiraled staircase, he said to his brother, “Go ahead and gather the special team. I’m going to talk to the king about this.”

His brother nodded then started running together with the other two special soldiers.

*

Hidden behind a bush of the royal garden, Soris watched the servant with the bottles advancing toward one of the side entrances of the building.

“I should be able to get the bottle before it goes into the cellar,” the prince said to himself and to the dark-haired girl who stuck close to him.

“How?” she asked.

“Wait here,” he whispered with excitement spread on his face.

The prince sprang from his hiding spot and ran to the servant, then, as he got close enough to the bored man, his feet movement turned into a playful gait. “Hi, mister!” he greeted, jumping at the man’s elbow.

“Oh, good evening, Your Highness,” the servant replied, surprised by this unusual meeting. The way the child clung after him signaled him that the prince was up to some mischief, so he sped up on the white stone alley. Ten more meters and he would be inside the palace.

Jumping automatically by his side, the prince watched the liqueur bottle with red seal on the neck, wrapped in twine, sitting quietly in its place in the box with rattling bottles. It was so close to his eyes, so defenseless. The boy stretched a hand and grabbed the bottle’s neck. He was just pulling it out when the servant suddenly lifted the crate.

“Your Highness, may I know what you’re trying to do? Alcohol is not for kids, and besides, these are all empty bottles,” he explained, keeping the crate up to his chest.

The prince tried to jump and rise on his feet, but it was of no use. His plan had failed. The servant marched inside the building. The boy stopped and watched with dismay how the bottle was getting away from him. If only he’d been quicker. Just when his spirits were going down, Ines showed by his side, “What are you doing? He’s getting away.”

The prince suddenly regained his composure. “Indeed. Let’s go in.”

Ghosting after the servant’s shadow, they halted before a corner and swiveled their heads around. The servant put the crate into a storage room, then locked the door and left to mend his other tasks. Soris retreated from the spying posture and let his chin rest in his palm. “Why didn’t he take the bottles to the cellar?” he wondered. “That’s where the wine barrels are.”

“If only we could open that door,” Ines thought aloud sparking a revelation in the prince’s mind.

“I know where I can get some keys!” he exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “Princess, you wait here and keep an eye on that door. I’m going to come back with the keys.”

Ines nodded, happy to play a part in an important mission. The boy guided her to a hiding spot beside a forgotten cupboard in the corridor, then he started for the superintendent’s room where he was sure to find a copy of most of the keys. His hopping steps led him there in just a few minutes, and with the help of a chair, he managed to reach up to the key ring hung on a wall, under the marking of letter A which stood for the first floor’s rooms.

General Waltario had been right to say no one would expect anything from him. Running through corridors, he’d passed by both nobles and household staff, but nobody ever stopped him to ask where he was going or what he was doing. They all minded their own businesses, not giving a care about a child who was probably just playing by himself. One last corridor and he would arrive at the storage room, open the door, take the bottle, bring it to Waltario, and then…

Something like a claw grabbed him by the collar. “Prince Soris, where do you think you’re going?”

The boy tried to squirm free, begging his captor, “Mister Clark, please, let me go. Someone’s waiting for me.”

Clark’s statue-face barely showed a glimpse of a frown. “Who could be waiting for you?”

Tottering on his toes, the prince mumbled hesitantly, “Well, Princess, the girl with purple eyes…”

Clark gave a hoot of derision, then dragged the boy back to his room. “I might be a pushover, but never a fool, my prince,” he commented snidely. “I’m sure your princess with purple eyes can wait until you pay for your misbehaving. The king has allowed me to punish you. You are not to leave your room until dinner.”

The boy watched with increasing sadness how he was being taken farther and farther from the storage room. The messenger would definitely take the bottle way before dinner. As he reluctantly followed the inexorable supervisor, he struggled to hold back some tears of frustration.

*

Dozing off by the old cupboard, Ines’ attention was drawn by the noise of a horse and the grinding wheels of a cart, echoing from the courtyard. Soon, hurried footsteps approached the silent corridor, so she shrunk by the wall. The whispers of two men reached to her ears.

“Everything is there just like you asked.”

“Good. Help me load my carriage. I need to leave quickly. The roads are going to be blocked because of the Rainbow Mist and I do not want to take a detour. Why would I waste so many days passing through the villages because of some damn fog?”

Ines recognized the first man to be the servant, then she dared to stretch her neck and glimpse at the newcomer. A man in dark clothes wearing a well-defined black mustache waited for the servant to unlock the door. His shiny thick hair followed the shape of his head like a helmet, just like his vest tightened around his slender waist. He was a merchant that came to the palace to bring all kinds of things for the courtiers and take back most of the broken things that could be repaired: from clocks and jewelry to chairs and clothes. Also, the liqueur bottles he brought were one of the best in the entire kingdom.

Ines took the piece of crystal out of her pocket and concentrated on making the spell, then she stepped forward, her heart skipping a beat whenever the two men looked her way but failed to see her. Unconsciously squeezing the piece of crystal in her wet hand, she waited by the merchant’s side, and followed him in the storage room, as the servant opened the door. Under the diffuse veil of light spread by a bulb, they passed by many boxes and shelf units stacked with dusty objects. The grey floor was crowded with parts of broken furniture, so their steps had to be careful.

The merchant rested hands on his hips and sighed. “I won’t take everything today. I’ll take only this, these, and these,” he said, pointing at some boxes overflowing with shiny clothes.

“Oh, we need these chairs repaired quickly. Please take these ones, too,” the servant said, lifting up a pack of wooden pieces.

As they started transferring objects, Ines searched for the liqueur bottle. She found the crate placed primly on a shelf which was out of her reach. When the two men were out of the room, she stopped the spell so she could focus on finding something to stand on. She pushed some box in front of the shelf unit, then hurried to hide behind a desk with two missing legs. The servant returned and, contrary to the merchant’s wish, rushed to pick up some other boxes with things his friends valued.

When he left, Ines darted from her place and jumped upon the box, stretching her hands to reach the crate. With a little effort, she managed to grab the bottle’s neck, but it was hard to shift it from its socket. Steps approached the room, so she had no more time to withdraw. She summoned the power of the crystal and turned invisible just as the merchant entered. He noticed her dark hair fading to nothing.

“What on earth?” he exclaimed and blinked rapidly. He closed in towards her, scanning the shelf. He saw the crate and took it in his hands. “I must be seeing things,” he muttered to himself and moved out, to the girl’s dismay.

Ines followed him in the corridor but stopped for a moment as her knees suddenly became weak. When no one was around, she deactivated the stone and took a moment to rest, remembering her mother’s teachings. Every crystal fed on the owner’s energy. She must have overused it already.

*

Trapped in his room and sitting at his desk, Soris watched the two supervisors talking leisurely and once in a while shooting a suspicious glance at him. Eyes back to the blank sheet of paper, he sighed. The Poem of Redemption had hundreds of verses and he could barely concentrate on copying it. Princess was down in the palace, keeping an eye on the storage room where the messenger could come in any moment for the secret bottle, while he was imprisoned in his room, thinking of an escape route. Dabbling his feet in the air, he transcribed the first verses, then dropped the pen on the table.

Clark eyed him immediately. “Anything wrong, Your Highness?”

“Yes. It’s stuffy in here. I need some air.” He hopped down from the chair and hastened to the balcony. Searching just around the corner of the building, he noticed the merchant’s chariot standing still as it was being loaded with wooden boxes. A thought answered his previous questions. Maybe that’s why the servant didn’t take the crate to the cellar. He was going to pass it to the merchant. Why didn’t he think of that? Soris grew restive with each second, thinking he would lose the messenger’s track.

“What are you watching so intensively?” Clark asked, as he and his friend approached the boy.

Both supervisors behind his back, the boy turned to them and heaved an upset sigh, then dragged his feet back in the room. The desk with the heavy book was waiting for him quietly, but then, so did the door at the back of the room. No one was expecting him to run now. So what if he gave it a try? As soon as that idea sparked in his mind, Soris ran to the door and snatched the key from the lock.

“Oh, no!” Clark gasped. “He’s getting away!”

On the other side now, ignoring the supervisors’ yells, the prince hurried to lock them in, then ran as fast as he could toward the left wing of the palace.

Loping down a servants’ staircase, he stopped on a landing to catch his breath, then looked over the big open window at his left. The carriage hadn’t left yet, but he could hear the merchant’s farewell talk with the servant. Just then, from the hedge bordering the alley, Ines stepped into the picture, looking left and right. Soris waved. “Princess! Over here!”

The girl looked up and smiled, then she beckoned to him to keep quiet. He turned silent as she pointed at the carriage, trying to tell him that the object of their mission was right there. To the boy’s great surprise, she snuck inside the coach’s open back doors. Although that seemed crazy, he jumped with enthusiasm. Once she had her hands on the liqueur bottle she would come out and his mission would be accomplished.

“All right. I’m going now. Take care,” the merchant said as he came out from the palace and went to close the coach’s doors. Soris gasped. Leaning over the window, he shouted at the top of his lungs, “Hey, Mister! Hey, over here!”

The messenger looked up and recognized the prince. “Oh, Your Highness,” he said, bending his head respectfully. “How may I be of your service?”

Soris glanced at the carriage, hoping to see Princess coming out. “Can I have some wine?” he asked pushing a grin to his cheeks.

The messenger puffed with laughter. “Oh, my apologies, Your Majesty. I have no wine for your age.”

Soris, smile on his face, was kicking the wall under the window with the tip of his right shoe, as there was no sign of the girl coming out from there. “Come on,” he mumbled between his teeth, then returned to the merchant. “Sir, but you must have something for kids too. I’m sick and tired of drinking only water.”

“Okay. Next time, I’m going to bring you some grape juice.”

“Yay,” said the prince, clutching the window’s margin with despair.

The merchant ignored the child’s other talk-baits, excusing himself. Inside the caravan, Ines, a bit lightheaded, was still searching through things when the messenger came to close the doors. She quickly turned invisible and hastened to get out, but her energy levels dropped low, so she arrived before the doors when they were already closed. She tried to push them open, but it was futile. They were locked.

The cart jolted, then started advancing. Panic-stricken, the girl turned around in the dark place. “Oh, mommy. What am I going to do? Why am I so tired?” she mumbled to herself before collapsing on the cold floor, drifting into deep sleep. The power of the crystal had drained her energy.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoy the story!

Chapter 5 – The Hero (The Prequel)

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Ines took a seat on the soft carpet of the long hallway and held back her tears to prove herself as brave as her mother believed her to be. The bloody lines of the multiple scratches on her legs had dried, but she felt cold, and minutes later, she learned she was hungry as well. Holding her shins close to her chest, she pulled down the ragged hem of her dress to better cover her legs, then folded her arms around them, and let her head rest atop of the knees. The racing beats of her heart slowed down to normal rhythm as she thought back to her parents and the fierce attack. Her mother’s powers had surprised her and her father’s composure in a fight where he was outmatched assured her that they would be victorious. They would definitely come back and continue the trip to the sea.

The door of the hallway opened and two servants, a man, and a woman slid in.

“Oh, who’s this little girl?” the man asked squatting before her. Ines lifted her head, staring at him apprehensively.

“She must be some beggar,” the woman said, taken aback by the child’s purple gaze.

They saw the ragged and stained clothes, but they also noticed the high quality of the material, and the seams and decoration were something they’d never seen before.

“Her feet have fresh scars,” the man noticed. “We can’t just chase her out.”

The woman fumbled with her apron for a while, then stooped and whispered, “All right. I’ll mend those scars and give her some bread. But you have to help me. If the supervisor sees us with a beggar here, she’ll get really angry.”

“What if she’s not a beggar, though? She has golden earrings. Little kid, how did you get here? Where are your parents?”

Ines drew her chin to her chest, casting scared stares at the two. “I don’t have parents,” she mumbled. “I have a message for General Waltario.”

The two frowned incredulously, then widened their eyes with surprise. The man turned to the maid. “She’s here for the general. Let’s take good care of her.” He took the child in his arms and hastened to the kitchen.

*

Soris sprinted to Waltario’s studio, proud of his feat, but also afraid that his father will come after him. With a wide grin on his face, he closed the metal door behind his back, jumped over the few steps and landed on the grey ground of the room.

Pacing up and down, he was anxiously waiting for Waltario. What would the general say about his mischievous strategy? It had been definitely a success. Acting all sweet and nice, he’d managed to ruin the king’s farewell to the mistress. However, as minutes went by and the studio’s chilliness crept on his arms, worry took over. Maybe he’d get punished for hitting the king.

Scary steps trotted towards the studio and the general’s furious voice echoed unintelligibly in the corridor. The boy jumped in place. Waltario must have gotten upset. Soris started trembling. He didn’t have the courage to receive the great general’s scolding. Waltario, usually a calm man, was known to be terrifying when he got angry. The prince opened a cabinet and huddled inside, doing his best to make it look perfectly closed.

The door opened and the Waltario brothers trotted in. “He’s started making decisions based on that woman’s desires,” Waltario said, propping himself by his large, cluttered desk. “This must end right now. Lady Voronchi has gone too far with this. She’s slowly gaining power over the country. It’s like she’s the queen now.”
Little Soris frowned as he heard all these.

Young Waltario patted his older brother on the shoulder. “Still, what can we do? He’s totally bewitched by her.”

Waltario closed his eyes and plunged into deep thought. He said in a low voice, “We must find out who is the messenger, the one who sends and retrieves their letters. The king was the only one who knew that Lady Voronchi will come to visit the palace today. That means they are exchanging secret letters.”

Young Waltario scratched his head. “But I train the messenger pigeons and none of them has been missing.”

“He might not necessarily use a pigeon to communicate with her. Whatever it is, we must find out.”

“And what are you going to do after we find the messenger?”

Waltario opened his eyes, sketching a smile. “You’ll see. Now, let’s get going. Marshall said there’s something we must check out in the woods.”

Behind the cracked open doors of the cabinet, Soris remained quiet, promising himself to be the one who finds the messenger first. After all, he hated Lady Voronchi the most, and he knew all his father’s secret places. Making sure the general had left for good, he darted from the cabinet and went to gather clues. He already had a lead in his mind.

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In the royal kitchen, Ines sat at a table, nibbling some biscuits with the help of a glass of milk. She would have eaten a lot more heartily hadn’t the servants been staring at her, exchanging secret comments.

The door opened and the servant who’d first found her rushed in. “I was too late. The general has already left. We’ll have to wait until he comes back.”

“What are we supposed to do then? Keeping her here will only slow us down,” a maid said, seeing a bad omen in the little girl’s eyes.

The servant sighed. “Well, it’s pleasant weather outside. I’ll take her to the courtyard. Maybe she’ll like to play with the other children.”

Some of the maids rolled their eyes over the floor with a grimace, unpleased with this solution. Their kids were playing outside and they didn’t want them to get in touch with the strange girl.

The door opened again and a stout man in a long white apron strode in, followed by a short maid who beamed with excitement. Arms akimbo, the man stopped before the little girl, peered at her from above, then said with a commanding voice, “Well, I am General Waltario. What ya have to tell me?”

The maids muffled their chuckles in their hands, while the small maid gave them a nudge to keep the act. The little girl sipped some milk, watching the man’s round belly covered by stained cotton. Everyone waited in silence, aside from the main who servant thought this was a silly game.

“You’re not General Waltario,” Ines said, laying her glass on the table. The group gave a cry of disappointment.

“She knows the general. It’s no use to pretend,” the servant said, hurrying to take the girl outside. Had she stayed longer, the group’s minds would have set on searching for other sneaky tactics to find out the child’s message to the general.

Out in the courtyard, there weren’t any other children. The maids had made sure to call them back in the palace. The servant patted Ines on the shoulder. “Well, just wait here in the garden. The other kids should be here, too. I’ll come back to you after the general returns, okay?”

Ines nodded, although she didn’t want to be left all alone. As soon as the man departed, she went back immediately to thinking about her mother and father. Last time she’d seen them, they were both injured and fighting dreadful creatures. What if they couldn’t come back for her? Taking a seat on a long bench, she dabbled her feet in the air, mostly to keep herself awake. Now and then, she yawned, and soon it became hard to look at the bright sky. The hedge behind her invited her to rest her back against it.

Just when her eyes were about to close, a group of children came running by. Some were of her age, some were older or younger with a year or so, but they were all dressed in beautiful clothes of bright-colored silk. They were the nobility’s children, and at her sight, four of them approached her with curiosity.

“Hey, who’re you?” a boy asked. “You’re new here.”

She lifted a wary gaze at them, shrinking inside herself. “Who’re you?” she asked to get away from answering.

“I’m Thomas, the son of Boyar Taylor. But, wow, look at those eyes! Are they purple?” he asked, drawing the others’ attention. Pressured by their suffocating curiosity, Ines got off the bench and took a few steps back. Why were they so surprised?

“Oh, she really has purple eyes!” the tallest of them exclaimed, getting the rest of the kids to gather around. As they almost surrounded her, marveling at the color of her eyes, Ines started shaking inside. What if they tried to harm her? She kept a hand close to the pocket where she’d hidden the magical crystal of invisibility.

The chorus of gasps and remarks of admiration got to the ears of Annette, a little girl who, as the daughter of a highly-appreciated boyar, was used to receive everyone’s admiration all the time. When she saw that she was no more the center of attention, she rushed to Ines. “Stand back, everyone!” she demanded, planting herself in front of Ines, frowning with envy at the newcomer.

“Oh, gosh!” she exclaimed, taking a few steps back, and frightening the others. “Guys, don’t be fooled by her looks. She’s a dragon. That’s why she has those eyes, and, oh, look at her feet! She has scars on them! She pretends to be a human to fool us all until she recovers. Stay away from us, you freak!”

Ines stepped back, aghast. The fear became real, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Go away, monster!” another kid screamed, thinking Annette’s idea was fun. As the rest joined the anti-dragon team quickly, Annette pushed Ines into a bush. Before the rest could surround her, Ines got up and started running, tears glistening down her rosy cheeks. She clutched the piece of crystal, thinking of turning invisible, but just then she bumped into someone. Sobbing and wiping tears, she looked up. It was Prince Soris. He’d come to see what the commotion was all about.

“Uh, sorry,” he said, bowing respectfully. Noticing her tears, he smiled. He’d finally found the occasion to prove himself a worthy knight just like the heroes in the stories Teacher Coldpeak had given him to read. He had a damsel to save. “Who’s bothering you?” he asked, buffing his flat chest. Ines rubbed her eyes, sniffing loudly.

He took out a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it heroically. “Don’t worry, princess. I’m here to save you.” Ines covered her face with the handkerchief, then sheltered behind his back. When the kids gathered around, Soris stood before them.

“Why are you attacking her?” he asked with a dignified voice.

“She’s weird. She has purple eyes,” Annette stated, lifting her chin.

“So what if she has purple eyes?” the prince said, not having noticed that by himself. “She’s a girl just like you. If a person has something that you don’t, it doesn’t mean they’re weird.” He said, gladly citing from his favorite collection of hero stories. “Everyone, return to your place. If you think she’s weird then I don’t, so go away and play with your common friends.”

The group mumbled and grumbled, but listened to his words and went back to their playground. No one dared to confront the prince. Soris turned to Ines, “See, I told you I’ll save you.”

Ines hinted a shy smile. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, err… what’s your name?”

“I don’t have a name,” she uttered, fearing he might become unfriendly just like the rest.
Soris blinked in confusion for a couple of seconds. “Well, then I’ll call you ‘Princess’.” He grinned. “I’m the prince of the Arid Kingdom, Prince Soris Ardensis. Call me Soris. Follow me, Princess. You’re my guest today.” He grabbed her hand and scampered toward the castle.

On their way, as they passed close to the building’s white walls, Soris noticed his mother’s withered appearance on one of the balconies. The companions had advised her to go out and take a breath of fresh air. Soris started jumping and waving until she cast her eyes on him. The queen feigned a smile, waving back at him. The boy pretended to be joyful, although the sorrow in those eyes was hard to ignore. When she returned to a meditative state, Soris let his arms at his sides and hung his head with a sigh. Ines saw everything and pitied the boy.

Dragging his feet, Soris brought her to the garden. Ines watched his sad face that had some resemblance to that of the lady on the balcony. “Was that your mom?” she asked. He nodded, ripping a leaf from the hedge and pretending to play with it.

“Why is she sad?”

The boy let the leaf fall and heaved up on a bench. “Dad is bad. He wants to replace Mom with a crone.”

“How come?”

“She bewitched him. That’s what everybody says. But I want to change that.”
Ines took a seat next to him. “How?”

He looked her straight into the eyes. “Promise not to tell?”

“Promise.”

“Okay. I’ll tell you a secret, but you have to tell me one, too.”

Ines nodded. Staring at her purple irises, Soris told her that he must find the messenger.

“I spied Dad a lot and I saw that he often puts something in a bottle before calling a servant to fill back the empty bottles. I think one of the servants is the messenger.”

“I can help you.”

“Really? How?”

“I have a stone that can make us invisible.” She pulled out the piece of crystal from her pocket.

Soris watched her in mute silence for a couple of seconds, then chuckled. “Hey, those things you read in stories are not real. Nobody can turn invisible.”

“Why? You’ve never heard of the crystal of invisibility?”

Like a wise man, the prince lifted his eyes to the sky. “I heard of Tooth Fairy, ogres and monsters, but those are just stories. When you’ll grow up like I, you’ll understand.”
Ines pouted. “Oh, so you don’t believe me. Fine, I’ll show you.”

As she closed her eyes, readying herself to say the spell, the boy let out a wise sigh.

“Leave it. I believe you. You’re just too little.”

Hearing Clark’s voice, the boy winced. “Oh, no. Let’s hide. If Clark finds me, my mission is over.” He grabbed Ines by the hand and ran to hide behind a hedge. Clark passed by the bench, talking to a friend who looked almost like a twin brother. “The prince hit the king! Oh, mother of the stars, he’s such a trouble-maker. Just as I left him into Waltario’s care, he made another blunder. I swear this is the last day I let him play with the ball.”
The prince tightened his fists. “How dare he…”

Little Ines whispered behind him, “Did you really hit the king?”
The boy turned. “Well, he was bad, too. He never talks to me, and he’s bad to Mommy.”

When Clark left the garden, they went back to the bench.

“So what’s your secret?” the boy asked. “You promised to tell me.”

Ines remembered her mother’s warnings and sighed. She wished she could tell more to the brown-haired boy who’d saved her and was so nice to her. “I have a message for General Waltario,” she said, glad that she found something that was allowed to speak about.

He lifted a brow. “What message?”

“I don’t know. I just have a letter to give him. Mommy said that I should not give it to anybody else.” She bit her lip, regretting that she’d mentioned her mother.
Soris nodded with curiosity. “Oh, I see. Well, I can lead you to the general. He’s my friend.”

“Really?” Ines beamed with gratitude, her clear stare making the prince uncomfortable.

“Yes. I’m the prince after all,” he replied, lifting his chin with fake pride. “As soon as he comes back in the palace, I’ll take you personally to him.”

“Thank you,” she said and chuckled.

The sound of some clinging bottles of glass drew their attention. A man carrying a bottle crate was passing by the garden. Soris jumped on his feet. “That’s the messenger! Quick! Let’s follow him!”

Ines left the bench and went after the prince who was excited to find the proof of the messenger.

Next chapter coming soon! Thank you for your kind support!