The End of an Age: The Overthrown Princess
The world twisted and turned before breaking into iridescent fragments that sparkled in the afternoon sunlight like stars. Turning the prism again, the world slid back into one once more, albeit warped; the edges of the room stretched and exaggerated inside the faceted crystal.
“Pretty!” the young princess exclaimed, turning the small harlequin glass over and over again between her forefinger and thumb. The young boy who sat next to her grinned triumphantly, pleased with her reaction.
“We call it ‘bardak’ and it came from all the way across from the sea!” he bragged, his ego inflated by the girl’s fascination in his treasure.
“How does it work?” the young girl asked as she turned the crystalline stone over yet again, captivated by the ever-changing colors and images within.
The boy’s grin faltered at the unanticipated question; he had never thought to question the logic behind the stone’s magic himself.
“It…umm…it was enchanted! By a seer over the sea!” the princess looked up from the stone at the boy and he nodded energetically as if to reaffirm the tale’s truth. The princess smiled and nodded in agreement, finding no issues with the boy’s story; Leunn had often told her stories about the magic the people used across the sea after all.
“It’s lovely,” the princess said again, turning the glass over once more between her fingers before holding it out to the boy to return.
The boy bit his lip as he looked at the small stone before finally shaking his head left then right. “Keep it.”
“Really?” the princess asked, her eyes widening and her voice filled with disbelief.
The boy’s cheeks turned red and he quickly turned his head to the side as he nodded. Jumping to her feet, the princess wrapped her arms around the boy tightly and the boy’s breath caught in his throat in surprise and he began to cough as he struggled to regain his composure. Oblivious of her new friend’s embarrassment, the princess released him and held up the stone high enough so they could both see it even though the boy was almost an entire head taller than she was.
“I won’t ever lose it and I’ll always keep it with me! It’s proof of our friendship, okay? I’ll be sure to come visit you sometime again, so don’t forget about me!”
The boy looked from the small, sparking stone in the princess’s outstretched hand to her smiling face and then he nodded once again.
“It’s a promise,” he agreed, watching the princess’s smile grow as he spoke. At the age of ten, he was nearly three years older than the young princess, but he still couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth.
The large wooden doors behind the children opened, and Leunn stood up quickly and bowed as the children’s parents entered. The last formalities were exchanged and parting words quickly followed them as the merchants from the Northeast prepared to take their leave.
Closing her fingers around the stone, the princess watched as her friend joined his parents, the fact slowing dawning on her that he was leaving.
Final words exchanged, the adults began to exit as the princess watched, ordered earlier by her parents to remain inside the castle. Biting the inside of her lip, finally she couldn’t stay quiet any longer.
“Don’t forget me, Jeer!” she shouted and the boy looked back for a second. Opening her mouth to say more, Leunn’s hand touched her shoulder and she stopped short, waving instead until the doors closed with a resonating boom that echoed inside her heart. Her fingers remained wrapped tightly around her new treasure, the sharp edges biting into her palm.
“Why can’t I ever see anyone off? And how come you always have to hang around?” the princess asked bitterly as she moved to the window opposite the door although she knew it looked in the wrong direction.
“You’re precious to the kingdom, Hime-sama, far more so than you could ever know. If anything were to happen to you the country would be devastated. As such, I will always be by your side and I’d gladly offer my life to protect you.” Leunn answered as he joined the young princess by the window.
Not really listening to his response, the princess stared out the window, straining her eyes to see anything other than the forest and tops of houses in the city below. Only her frowning reflection stared back.
Three Years Later
“Hime-sama, I’m afraid you’ve slept through your coronation.”
Fae-Lee’s eyes shot open and she bolted upright in bed, her sleepy mind working hard to process what the words meant.
“Why didn’t you wake me up, Leunn?!” she cried angrily as she struggled to get to her feet but only tangled the blankets around her legs instead.
Finally managing to free herself from the clutches of the covers, Fae nearly fell out of bed in her hurry to stand up until she finally noticed the hint of glee in Leunn’s eyes, his hand unable to hide the smirk behind it.
“Leunn…” she began, her voice turning into a growl as she narrowed her eyes, realizing the joke.
“Forgive me, Hime-sama, but I only acted in the manner I felt most fit to wake you up.”
Fae bit back several choice words as she tried to regain her composure.
“If it weren’t you…” she began, but Leunn had already stood up and was halfway to the door.
“Not to say I don’t enjoy our early morning chats, but today my schedule is a bit hectic.” He apologized as he reached the door and turned back for a second.
“Won’t you be guarding me today as always?” Fae couldn’t stop herself from asking, a pit opening up in her stomach as she watched Leunn smile sadly and shake his head.
“Unfortunately, my duties as the head royal guard prevent me from acting as such today. No need to fear though; you’ll have several other well-qualified guards posted at your door at all times, so you have nothing to fear.”
Without waiting for a response, Leunn left the room and Fae remained standing alone as the news sunk in slowly.
“Stupid Leunn,” she finally muttered under her breath. “That’s not what I cared about.”
Reaching beneath her pillow, Fae grabbed her necklace from underneath and fastened it around her neck, the weight of the stone that hung on the chain pulling the necklace into place. Fae smiled for a second as she looked upon the necklace and then sighed deeply as she remembered her predicament. It was going to be a long day.
As the morning sun slowly awoke and rose its head high over the land, preparations entered full swing. Although the small forested country of Eurune was mainly governed by a council of advisors, a member of the royal family still headed the country. Which of course had led to this fateful day: the day of the princess’s dreaded coronation.
Of course only Fae really dreaded the day; for everyone else it meant a celebration. But for the queen-to-be it meant getting dressed up like some overly-fancy doll and then having to give a speech in front of the entire populace.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? It was worse.
Four guards were posted close to Fae for the entire day, and they only spoke when she asked a question of them. Fae didn’t doubt their loyalty or skill, but she couldn’t help but feel lonely despite their presence.
“If only Leunn could have forsaken his place for once,” Fae couldn’t help but think. But even if he had, he wouldn’t have been the Leunn Fae wanted by her side anyway.
Lunch came and passed by uneventfully, and then Fae’s coronation dress finally arrived. As the new figurehead of the country, no expense was spared on this single piece of clothing, despite Fae’s own protests against it.
Still, she couldn’t deny its beauty.
Made from a glossy fabric imported straight from the markets of Fledgy, the dress was the soft pastel pink of spring Acacia flowers. Slim at the top, the dress flared into variegated frills at the bottom. Down the back the fabric was parted with a thin string criss-crossing back and forth across the slit to tighten the dress once it was on. Tugging at her necklace, a smile crossed Fae’s face as she imagined what it would look like on.
“Wait until Leunn sees me in this,” Fae couldn’t help but whisper as she stroked her fingers across the dress which had been carefully laid across her bed. But even as the thought crossed her mind, she pushed it away; she wasn’t wearing the dress for Leunn.
Several hours still remained before the ceremony began, but until then Fae was little more than a bird in a cage. She could sing if she wished, but she couldn’t spread her wings beyond the length between the bars. Knowing that she would try to help out if she was allowed, the maids and ladies in waiting had forbid her from leaving her room until sundown. Warm afternoon sunlight now crept into the room, but despite the growing swell of nervousness inside her, Fae couldn’t help but feel bored by her situation.
“For your support…and..and your gratitude, I thank you all…” Fae found herself yawning after practicing her speech for the fourth time.
“I suppose a short nap wouldn’t hurt anything,” Fae decided as her eyes grew heavy. Today would be the last day of such luxuries after all; as queen her life would become much busier.
Fae’s eyes opened and immediately she knew she had overslept. Sitting up, she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes as she looked around. Light still seeped into the bedroom but it was much darker. No maids were anywhere to be seen, however.
“They must have gotten busy, they’ll be here in a few minutes,” Fae countered the growing anxiety within her. Something felt slightly off, but Fae couldn’t dwell upon it. She’d have to start getting dressed on her own to make up for the delay; out of everyone, she couldn’t be the one to make a mistake on her own coronation.
Pulling off her sleep-ruffled clothes and tossing them to the side, Fae smoothed her hair back with a hand and then stepped into the sleek gown. Pulling it on was simple enough, but without help Fae couldn’t tie the back closed properly. Frowning, Fae picked up the frills so she wouldn’t step on them and headed to the door.
Knocking softly, Fae quickly asked her question.
“When will the maids be here to help?” No answer came back.
After waiting a whole minute, Fae couldn’t ignore her unease anymore and she quickly unlocked and pushed open the door a crack. Instantly she wished she hadn’t.
Outside the door the walls were awash in blood; the bodies of her murdered guards lay slumped along the hallway. Two other bodies of men she had never seen also lay slain in the hall; their blood mixing with that of her guards. The smell of death and smoke hung heavy in the air.
Covering her mouth with her hand to hold back a scream, Fae’s mind desperately tried to process the bloodbath until the sound of footsteps caused relief to blossom inside her.
A coup perhaps? But Fae didn’t know of any major groups who opposed their government. Perhaps several traitors then? Stepping into the hallway, Fae swallowed back nausea and hoped the approaching footsteps belonged to someone who could explain this chaos.
The footsteps grew louder as their makers finally rounded the corner and Fae opened her mouth to talk but quickly stopped short. The men responded similarity, their eyes widening in surprise and a few short lines of speech traded among them. Then the man in the front pointed and the others drew long, metallic weapons from their sides and aimed them towards Fae.
Her senses finally kicking in, Fae dived back into her room just as the weapons discarded loudly, the sound deafening and the smell of smoke growing stronger. Slamming the door shut, Fae fumbled with the lock for a second before giving up. Her hands shook as she abandoned the door and went to the window instead, throwing it open. Chaos greeted her.
Thin trails of black smoke were outlined in the dying sunlight; shouts and the clang of weapons seemed to assault her from all sides.
“This can’t be happening,” Fae thought as she bundled up her dress in her hands and slipped her legs over the window and dropped to the ground. Still holding her dress in her arms, Fae took off running, silently thanking the gods for their blessings and the guards for their sacrifices.
With no real destination in mind, Fae followed the wall of the castle, keeping her head low as she ran so she wouldn’t be noticed though the windows.
“If you ever need anything, just find me. I’ll protect you no matter what.”
Turning the corner, Leunn’s words came back to Fae as she ran. “Please let him still live,” Fae whispered as she ran, beseeching the gods although she knew she had been blessed enough not to be found yet. It wasn’t her place to expect any other miracles.
Turning another corner so she was at the farthest end of the castle, Fae stopped short, tears forming in her eyes as she smiled in relief. Perhaps the gods were still on her side after all.
“Leunn!” she shouted, and then took off running once more, stumbling over the ground in her haste but somehow managing to stay on her feet.
“Fae-Lee?” In surprise Leunn forget formalities, turning to look at the princess, his face first registering shock then relief.
Reaching Leunn, Fae threw her arms around him nearly knocking him off his feet, and the frills she had been holding back fell around her legs.
“What’s going on, Leunn? All my guards were killed and…and…” The whole situation finally caught up to Fae and fear caused her to stumble over her words.
Prying her arms off him, Leunn’s face was troubled yet again as he checked to make sure no one was coming before he turned back to Fae.
“Eurune was attacked; they came from the North without warning. I can’t really tell you anymore in confidence yet; the whole situation is still unknown. Anyway, I’m glad you’re unharmed, Hime-sama.” His words were distracted, and after he finished speaking, he quickly turned to make sure the grounds were still clear for the moment.
Fae took a step closer; Leunn’s unease infecting her. Though he had been with her as long as she could remember, she had never seen him so flustered before. Even when he had been promoted to head of the royal guards he had remained composed.
“Leunn–” she began but he spoke before she could finish.
“What’s this?” he asked, pointing at the winkled gown she still wore.
Her cheeks suddenly burning, Fae clutched the dress tighter around herself; suddenly aware that she still hadn’t closed the back.
“It was my coronation gown,” She said slowly, realizing that it was now stained around the bottom edges with blood from the hall.
“You look nice,” Leunn said, but the smile he offered her was full of regret as if he wished he could have spoken the words under different circumstances. Of course, that was no longer possible.
Fae’s cheeks burned once more, but before she could say anything, Leunn had drawn his sword and moved in front of her to shield her with his body.
“Please stay behind me, Hime-sama. The attackers aren’t using conventional weapons, so I’m afraid I can’t guarantee your safety otherwise.” His words reminded Fae of the strange smell of smoke and loud weapons from before. She couldn’t help but wonder just who the invaders were; their weapons weren’t like anything she had seen before.
A single man walked slowly into view, a cruel smile on his face. In one hand he held a wide curved blade, and in the other he held a small weapon Fae had never seen.
“So this is where ya ran off ta, Av,” the man spoke with a thick accent Fae couldn’t place; the mysteries behind the attackers only seemed to grow in number.
“Ya can always tell a deadman by ‘is blood,” as he approached, he waved his blade in the air in explanation, the sun glinting off the blade and highlighting the dark crimson along its edge.
“Wasn’t hard to find ya with the trail ya left and nowhere ta run ta.” He laughed at that, and for the first time Fae finally noticed that Leunn was breathing heavily though he had tried to hide it from her before.
“Leunn–” she tried again, but he shook his head.
“I’m fine, Hime-sama, just a scratch.”
“And who’s tha behind ya?” the man asked, noticing Fae for the first time and his grin growing as he accessed the increased opportunities for torture.
Leunn took a step back so he was closer to Fae and held himself up straighter, holding his free hand out to the side to block Fae further.
“She has nothing to do with this; you’re my opponent,” the man smiled at Leunn’s response, finally stopping several yards away.
“Perhaps I should kill ‘er first then ya?” he asked, and when Leunn didn’t reply his smile turned into a frown, his face darkening. “Fine then, les start off with some fireworks, then.” The man lifted up the foreign weapon so the sun glinted off its edges.
“Please trust me this once, Hime-sama,” Leunn said and turned and caught Fae’s arm in his hand and pulled her with him as he darted to the left. The sun glinted off the object once more and then it was a blur sailing through the air. For a second the world was quiet, then the object hit the castle wall and the world erupted in noise as stone shattered and was sent flying and the grass beneath caught fire.
Still running, Leunn continued to pull Fae behind him as another boom resonated through the air and a smaller explosion sent shards of stone flying as it hit the castle wall just behind Fae.
Thick, black smoke billowed up from the explosions and began to cloak the world in their dark embrace, and fire crackled and hissed at the grass as it quickly began to spread.
Another short boom broke through the air, and suddenly Leunn’s hand released Fae’s as he stumbled to the ground and barely caught himself in time, small dark circles staining the ground beneath him as he coughed.
Bending to the ground to help him up, Leunn shook his head once more and smiled warily at the princess.
“Just the smoke, Hime-sama, no need to concern yourself,” he assured her as he pushed himself to his feet slowly and coughed again.
A few more steps and they had reached the forest; behind the large trees they took refuge, the smoke further cloaking them.
“Let’s flee,” Fae suggested, hating how cowardly she sounded but seeing no other option.
“He’ll just follow us,” Leunn countered, glancing from around the tree trunk to try to find the other man’s location.
“Then what?” Fae asked, feeling panic rising inside her.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to accompany you this time, Hime–” Leunn began, but cut short as he coughed once more, covering his mouth with his hand as he did.
“No, you’re coming with me,” Fae took his moment of weakness to speak, grabbing his free arm and avoiding the sword he still clutched despite its obvious uselessness in this battle. “As the princess and future Queen of Eurune, I order you.”
Leunn caught his breath and smiled at the princess’s words, just as he had used to smile when she was younger and had made a foolish mistake in her studies.
“This is the first time you’ve given me an order, Hime-sama, and the first time I’ll have to disobey you.”
Fae wrapped her arms tighter around Leunn’s arm, but he easily broke her grasp with his other hand and pulled himself free, taking a step away from her.
“Don’t think so little of me, Hime-sama. Such a weak opponent couldn’t kill me. Don’t you have any faith in me?”
“I do–” Fae began, already sensing how he planned to play this out but not knowing how to change it. “I do, but I…I need someone to come with me, to protect me.”
Even Fae’s words sounded cheap to her own ears.
“Of course, and I’ll join you as soon as I’m able,” Leunn promised, glancing around the tree again for the attacker. Turning back after a second, he set his sword carefully on the ground and then pulled his tattered black jacket off and draped it around Fae’s shoulders.
“I’m afraid it’s not much of a gift, but it’s the most I can give you,” he said as he retrieved his sword and Fae clutched the jacket with both hands, pulling it around her tightly. His shirt beneath the jacket was also the black of the royal guard, but unlike the jacket it showed the large cuts he had sustained much more clearly, dark blood soaking into the fabric in several places.
“When I leave, head south to the Drei of Bewaldet and seek asylum,” Leunn pointed to the south as he spoke. “Any of the three countries should welcome you; we’ve always had amiable relationships with them. No matter what–” he began, but had to stop as he coughed, his face barely concealing his pain.
Clearing his throat finally, his breathing was even more labored and his voice trembled just slightly. “No matter what, don’t die. You’re the hope of the people and my hope as well. Understand?”
Fae nodded, tears coming to her eyes as she did.
“Goodbye, Fae-Lee,” he said, his eyes filled with sorrow and regret, and then he turned and headed back to the castle.
Fae stood frozen for another minute, her new life sinking in. Not her life as a Queen, her life as a refugee. Clutching Leunn’s jacket closer around her, she peaked around the tree once but the smoke was too thick to see anything now. She imagined she heard the sound of Leunn’s sword hitting another, she knew the sound by heart from watching him practice. The sound would mean he would win, for he was unmatched in his sword skill.
But there was no more room for sword fighting in this new type of battle where a single man could harness the power of fire and explosions, the power of the gods.
The princess, alone once more, turned to the south and began to run, never looking back. The old castle was now engulfed in flames, and the greasy black smoke rose in thick columns as fire consumed all in its path. Its wrath knew no discrimination as it devoured both men who had traveled from far away lands and men who were once loved as warriors and friends.