The fuchsia sky peppered with cyan speckles; the sweet dampness of my shoulders after a cool rain; luminescent bubblegum butterflies blowing mini kisses at my cheek; forest sprites weaving between my appendages, humming their melodic tune like twirling enchantresses – it all fills my heart with warm syrup: I’m finally home. Although I have one mission left to complete, I can’t help but feel relaxed and at peace in the confines of Espian territory.
Princess Dalia greets me at the heart of the forest by batting those huge emerald eyes and giving me the most welcoming embrace a traveler could receive after returning from a journey. “It’s so nice to see you again, Kal. You don’t know how much I’ve missed you.”
Although I want so badly to keep my hands around my true love, there were other matters that needed to be sorted. “It’s important that I see your father. Is he in his chamber?”
Happiness drained from the royal nymph’s face, and her grip on me falls. “If you hurry you may catch him in the dining hall, but if you don’t find him there, check his chamber.” She brushes a string of hair from her vision, revealing more of her pistachio skin, and pecks my cheek.
I take her hand. “Would you care to accompany me, my darling?”
She shakes her head, no. “Jaya needs me down at the cavern; I believe she’s having difficulty completing the embroidery on the Kannimara tapestry my father requested. You know how important that tapestry is to him.”
After kissing her knuckle, I say, “Take care then, Dacia. I’ll visit you in your quarters tonight; I picked something up from Blarenwood you will enjoy.” I bid her farewell and catch the king in the dining hall, as she mentioned.
The king wasn’t known to exhibit abusive behavior for which many other monarchs are known. So it was to no surprise that I caught him helping clean up after dinner. “Your majesty,” I say, bowing.
“Kalenach, so you’ve returned. I take it the mission was a success?” he asks, shining the final dewdrop plate.
“Lord Espian, I’ve returned not to relay news of success, but one of peril. Although I safely eradicated the raiders around Blarenwood Heights as you asked –”
Espian stops me, turning to the other maids occupying the room. “My dear Zella, Ven, could you perhaps turn to tidying the west wing? Please leave the dinnerware for me – I find it helps me focus.” Then, after having the hall to ourselves, he continues. “I know what you wish to tell me, Kalenach. I’ve known for a very long time how you feel about my daughter.”
“Respectfully my lord, that is not what this pertains to. Rather, it’s about a war with the raiders. There are rumors that you have cut the food and supply lines leading into Gerniyew. Surely the rumors are mistaken; I told them that you’d never allow such a thing to happen because there are far more innocent people than raiders in the crystal city.” I pause to catch my breath. “I’m afraid someone is spreading acid about you.”
The king keeps his eyes trained on a glossy dinner plate. “Oh, Kalenach, they are not mistaken, mind you. And the decision was not an easy one to make, as there are innocents as you stated; however, I’d rather make the sacrifice if it means eliminating the threat of the raiders before they become a force too large to handle.” He smiles. “Don’t you see? The fall of Gerniyew will be so devastating to them that the raiders will surrender, and peace will return to our nation.”
Or that would enrage the masses and turn everyone against us for taking out the most populated settlement in the world. “There has to be another way.” The thought of standing tall beside a twisted king sickens me. I’d rather lose any chance I have with Princess Dacia than take part in this scheme.
“I’m afraid it’s too late. Commander Frossa has already received the order to suffocate the grand city. And the tapestry that I will personally hang in the Gerniyew palace is nearly complete.” Setting a shined plate down to fetch a dirty one, he adds, “This cannot be stopped.”
I once believed nothing could shake the trust and loyalty I had toward Lord Espian, but I am utterly ruined. Without saying a word, I rush out of the dining hall. While I close the door, Espian mutters, “He should have just asked to marry my daughter and minded his own business like I wanted him to; such a shame, such a shame.”
As I exit the palace, I’m dropped in an unfamiliar place. No longer does my heart long to see the glowing butterflies under the magenta sky; the feeling of joy I once got from the song of the forest sprites leaves me now with a caustic pit in my stomach. Knowing that Espian territory – my former home – will be officially declared hostile sends a stinging quake down my spine.
I am torn between the lives of the innocent and the one I would have with Dacia if I turn a cold shoulder and mind my own business as the king requested.
“Kalenach!” It’s Commander Frossa. Her perfect, ceramic lips are pursed to the point of shattering. The king’s order hangs on her hip beside a crystal blade. She stands under the shadow of the royal tower, her sparkling cape dancing against the wind. “We need to talk.” Her voice is hoarse, strained. “It’s about your wife. I don’t know how, but she’s escaped Espinglow.” Her stature drops. “Everything we’ve planned is in peril.”