It was dark that night. Thunder rolled across the land as the Goddess rained fire down upon the earth. The storms raged onward outside the castle but inside the strong walls, all was deathly silent.
Lord Larigh stood at the foot of the Queen’s bed, leaning nervously against the mattress. Lord Draven held Airis’ hand softly as she grew paler by the passing hour. Sir Brenlen paced the quiet chambers, frustrated by his inability to help.
At last, Eron appeared in the door. He silently made his way over to her bed. He was watched with frayed emotions as he checked Airis over.
“There’s nothing I can do.” Eron sighed bitterly.
“What do you mean nothing?” Draven hollered hysterically.
“The shock to her body was too extensive. She is going to die.” Eron made his way over to the twins as they slept away peacefully. The storm continued to rage on outside as Brenlen snagged Larigh and took him into the hall.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” Brenlen hissed.
“Something isn’t right that’s for sure. The balance was upset by the death of Kael.” Larigh replied just as frustrated.
“It should have been obvious that the word of the ancients was broken when the girl was born. If we are to restore the balance, she has to go.”
“Harsh words Brenlen.” Larigh growled.
“Just might be harsh, but it’s the truth and you know it. Without Airis here to protect us, these children are in real danger.”
“I know.” Larigh sighed in defeat.
“I’ll take Aravis to King Mallec in Praeve and watch over her there. You take young master Keenai to Alazair with Lord Drake. No one here is to know, other than Lord-Regent Draven, where we have gone. We will keep in contact through him.”
“So it shall be done my friend, but do not think I approve one moment of this.”
“Consider it well-noted.” Brenlen replied as he made his way back into Airis’ chambers.
Larigh stood in silent reflection as the hours passed. Airis had not stirred once as the time passed. They all watched, helpless, as the once strong woman who had saved them all, faded away before their eyes.
As the first rays of sunlight filtered in from the balcony, Airis drew her final breath. With the passing of the storm she too faded away into the sun.
Larigh took Keenai away that evening. They headed quickly through the forest and into the mountain pass. Drake met them at the door with open arms for the child. Larigh turned to look back at the mountain one last time, as he offered up a silent prayer for the safety of the last of the Chaosti heirs.
Mallec stared absently across the room as Brenlen carried the child to him. It had been many seasons since the two of them had seen each other. Although Mallec had traces of grey in his hair now, he marveled that his old friend had not aged a day.
Brenlen wasted no time placing Aravis in Mallec’s arms. He looked at the child with a mixture of wonder and curiosity. Brenlen bowed slightly, and then began to explain.
“Airis is gone. She passed bringing Aravis and her brother, Keenai, into this world. In order to protect them, we felt it necessary to remove them. Will you raise her as your own?” Brenlen asked.
“I owe Airis my life and my Kingdom. I will raise Aravis. My life for hers, now and forever.” Mallec said as he shed a tear.
Satisfied with his reply, Brenlen took a deep breath and followed Mallec up the stairs. He said a silent prayer for the Chaosti heirs as Aravis was laid to sleep.
The uncertain future frayed the nerves of the long-term guardians of the Chaosti house. As the sun set on another day, Brenlen and Larigh settled into their positions, uneasily reassuring themselves that it would be alright some day.
Aravis snuck silently down the stairs, trying to avoid the servants and her father’s disapproving glances. She just had to get out of the stuffy castle. Sir Brenlen had pushed her harder than usual in her studies that afternoon.
It was only a few more moons to her seventeenth year, and she felt like she needed a break. Aravis made her way silently through the gardens. It was nearly sun set, so it wouldn’t be long before the shops closed and the people made their way home.
There was only one thing on Aravis’ mind as she made her way through the emptying streets. The Back Door Pub was a small establishment, known by the locals for its rough crowd. She found it to be a great place to go to unwind after a long day. At home she was Aravis, Princess of Praeve, but in the pub she was just Ara.
The pub was already filling up as Ara made her way up to the bar. The bartender handed her the usual shot of whiskey and a pint. She swallowed the shot and made her way over to the corner table.
It wasn’t long into her first pint when her friends began arriving. Ineah was the eldest daughter of the jeweler, first in line to take up the craft, but the last one interested in the job. She had high hopes of relocating to Ichnae and pursuing a career in medicine.
Dael, the bakers’ son, had spent over half of his young life covered in flour. It wasn’t something he minded doing, in fact, he looked for more creative foods every day. He excelled at the fine art of food decorating.
Ary walked up behind Ineah and pinched her side, causing her to squeal in surprise. He was the rebel of their little group. He played for spare change and slept wherever he landed, which was more often than not, on a bench in the park.
The three companions pulled up a chair by Ara and began chatting away about their collective busy day. Ara smiled and nodded, but kept her own tale to herself. She had only met them a few times on other nights, and had become friendly with them. She wasn’t ready to tell them about herself just yet, out of fear she would be discovered by her father or worse, Sir Brenlen.
“So what did you do today Ara?” Dael asked snapping her back from her own thoughts.
“Oh, just the usual, studying. My teacher is a drill sergeant or something. I almost didn’t make it tonight.” Ara chuckled.
“You should seriously tell him to relax.” Ary burped out as he finished his pint.
“If only it were that easy.” Ara sighed, as she finished her own drink.
Ineah winked at Ary and dragged him out onto the dance floor as the band struck up the first tune of the night. Dael waived the waitress over with another round of drinks for himself and Ara. She smiled and nodded her appreciation as she sipped it in nervous silence.
“I missed you this week Ara. Kept stopping in here hoping I’d see you.” Dael smiled as he took her hand in his.
“I know I just was really busy this week.” She smiled weakly.
“Why don’t you tell me about it?” He asked quietly.
“Not much to tell.”
“I want to know more about you Ara, but I understand if you’re not ready to talk.”
“I’ll always be here when you’re ready.” He smiled.
“You’re so sweet.” She giggled.
“It’s all the pastries.” He winked.
Ara leaned in and kissed Dael lightly on the lips, as she had done many times before, to taste the sugar for herself.
“Definitely the pastries.” She replied as she looked deep into his blue eyes and smiled.
They sat there looking dreamily at each other for a while longer, completely oblivious of their surroundings. It wasn’t until someone cleared their throat that they felt the need to look away from each other.
Ara looked up to see Sir Brenlen hovering over them with his arms folded. He had a stern look of disapproval written on his face. Startled, Ara stood, throwing back her chair.
“Brenlen let me explain please.” She begged.
“Ara, are you ok? Who is this?” Dael asked concerned.
“Is this where you spend your night time hour’s Princess?” Brenlen growled.
“Just let me explain please!” She begged, as Dael looked on, confused.
“You’re the Princess? Is this why you wouldn’t tell me anything?” He asked nervously.
“Dael, I’m so sorry. Brenlen, he didn’t know anything, I swear it.” Ara continued to plead.
“Consider this your fair warning son. Stay away from Her Highness. Let’s go Aravis.” He took her by the arm and led her away. She looked back apologetically as he took her from the pub.
Sir Brenlen marched Aravis through the gardens and into the castle. She went along bitterly, knowing she was in trouble, and that if Brenlen had his way, she wouldn’t have the opportunity to tell Dael the truth. Once Brenlen had her back in her chambers, he began the lecture she knew was coming.
“That was very irresponsible of you young lady.” He began. “Do you have any idea how bad that could have been if you had been discovered?”
“You will not return to the town for any reason Aravis. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Sir Brenlen.” She replied bitterly.
“That display with that young man was unbecoming of a Princess.”
“I know. I meant no harm. I just went there to relax with my friends.”
“Those are not your friends. They are commoners, and you will not see them again.” He demanded. She looked sadly down at the floor as a tear fell down her cheek.
“Is that clear?” He snapped.
“Yes.” She replied.
“Good, now get some rest. Its back to your lessons at first light, and after this stunt you can be certain they won’t be pleasant.”
Brenlen closed the door behind himself. Ara threw herself face down on the bed and wept for all she had lost that night, believing that no one would understand how she truly felt.
Brenlen found King Mallec in the library shortly after sunrise. He sighed as he walked through the door. He disliked having to explain Aravis’ actions almost as much as he disliked punishing her for them.
“Morning Brenlen. What can I do for you today?” Mallec smiled.
“It’s Aravis again.” He sighed as he took a seat across from him.
“She reminds me so much of her mother it saddens me. I found her in the local pub last night with a young man.”
“You made a scene there didn’t you Brenlen.” Mallec chuckled. “She won’t forgive you for it if she is anything like her mother.”
“I’ve got to protect her, even from herself. It’s my duty, and I hope one day she understands that.” He replied standing.
“You work that girl way too hard.” Mallec stated. “What will come when she learns the truth? If you continue to push her she’ll find her own path.”
“It’s not yet time for her to know the truth.” Brenlen stated as he walked toward the door.
“Not yet time for who Brenlen, you?” Brenlen didn’t reply. He closed the door behind himself and made his way silently down the hall.
Ara met Brenlen in the private garden her father had designed for her. An eight foot stone wall had been constructed to keep people from straying in on her while she practiced.
Brenlen had already reset the target dummies by the time Ara had made her way to the waterfall. She sighed heavily and grasped at her skirt as she stopped next to him. He smiled warmly at her.
“Rest well Princess?” He asked.
“Well enough thank you.” She muttered, still obviously frustrated about the night before.
“All is good then. Ready to practice?”
“As ready as I’m going to be.” Ara replied as she let her skirt loose and shook her hands out.
“Three separate targets today Aravis. I want to see short, controlled bursts this time.” Brenlen explained. Ara nodded her understanding as she steadied her breathing.
“Begin.” Brenlen stated.
Ara opened her eyes, completely focused. As she looked around for her targets, her breathing slowed down to the point it appeared she wasn’t breathing at all.
As Ara laid her eyes on the first target, time stopped for her. In a split-second her hands came up. Energy shot from her fingertips that sent the dummy flying in a shower of splinters.
The other two dummies came into focus. Ara’s hands shot out to her sides, and the other two dummies flew back off their stands. Time came back as her breathing became heavier. Dizziness threatened to take her as she hit the ground, nearly exhausted.
“Very good Aravis.” Brenlen said as he helped her to her feet.
“Tell me again why we do this.” She said as he sat her down on the bench.
“It’s what you were born for Princess. When your gifts expose themselves, we hone them so you learn how to use them properly.” He replied.
“Why can’t I be like everyone else? I can’t even ride a cloud like my father can.” She pouted, as her frustration became obvious.
“All answers come in time Aravis. Why don’t we take the afternoon off? Your dagger and sword skills are good enough for you to take a break.” Brenlen smiled kindly.
“Your birthday celebration is tomorrow after all. You should be well-rested for it.” He chuckled.
“It’s not my celebration. It’s my fathers. No one I know is allowed to come.” She stated harshly as she stood.
“I’ll be in the front courtyard, working in the gardens there if anyone wants me.” She stormed away, leaving Brenlen to shake his head behind her.
Ara kneeled in the dirt as she put the last plants in the earth. As she reached for the watering can, she noticed the bushes shifting unnaturally.
Without a second thought, Ara lashed out with a small energy wave. It landed right on target and was responded to by a foul curse in a familiar voice.
Dael fell out of the bushes, cursing as he held his wounded arm close to his body. Ara cursed and threw her hands up to hide her embarrassment as she raced over to help him up.
“I am so sorry.” She stammered as he looked at her completely shocked.
“Let me see it please.” She said, taking his hand gently in hers.
Ara gently brushed her right hand across the wound on Dael’s arm. It closed effortlessly, leaving no reminder of the injury. He looked at her, stupefied.
“There was obviously a lot you didn’t tell me.”
“What are you doing here anyways? Brenlen will kill you if he sees you.” She hissed as she dragged him back into the bushes.
Dael took Ara’s head in his hands, and kissed her deeply. She gasped as he finally let her go. They looked each other in the eyes for a few moments before speaking.
“I missed you.” He whispered.
“I missed you too Dael, but you really should go. I wish things were different.”
“They can be. It’s not that hard to see how you feel about me.”
“It’s more complicated than that.”
“No, its simple Ara. I’ll prove it to you somehow.”
“Just go before something happens. I can’t stand the thought of what they would do to you if they found out.”
Ara stood and walked away without looking back. Dael sighed to himself in the fading light of the day then slowly made his way home, alone.