Chapter 3:

Morning

Grand Epic Elemental


The morning sun imparted warmth onto Leiyu’s face as a gentle breeze played with the strands of his hair. He blinked, slowly coming to a waking state.

He sat up and took stock of his surroundings. He was still in the rooftop garden, on the same divan that he remembered lying down on the night before.

Did I fall asleep? he thought, feeling flustered. It’s already morning.

He saw that the other divan was empty. The tabletop fire pit had long since been extinguished and there were only curling wisps of smoke.

Where did the prince go? he wondered.

In the distance, he could make out the faint strumming of a stringed instrument.

Music? he thought. He got up and began to wander around. When he reached one corner of the rooftop garden, he saw Prince Thallios sitting cross-legged on a cushion beneath a flowering tree, playing a stringed barbat and singing softly to himself, eyes downcast.

Leiyu stood still, not wanting to interrupt. Prince Thallios looked up.

“Your Highness, you play very well.”

The prince smiled. “Thank you.” He stood up. “Leiyu, may I ask you for a favor?”

“A favor? What would you like, Your Highness?”

“Can you spar with me?”

“Spar?”

“I practice with the palace sword instructor sometimes. But I’d like to spar with someone new.”

Leiyu raised his eyebrows. Last night, Prince Thallios was admiring his tales of heroism and today he wanted to fight with him? He regarded the prince’s petite frame. But was it really that unusual to ask to spar? He sparred many times with his fellow disciples when he was growing up. And someday, the prince would become king, and he would need many skills to rule a kingdom…

He returned his mind to the present when he noticed the prince looking at him.

“As you wish, Your Highness.”

***

Leaves fluttered in the wind as Prince Thallios and Leiyu made their way to the palace courtyard. The prince headed over to a bench, where there were two swords. He removed his cape and placed it on the bench.

Leiyu glanced at Prince Thallios, whose back was currently facing him. Dangling from the prince’s slender waist was an ornately curved dagger with a jewel on its hilt.

“These practice swords are made of wood, so no need to worry about getting injured,” said Prince Thallios as he handed one of the weapons to Leiyu.

He accepted the wooden sword. I’ll go easy on him. If the prince had never left the palace before, then it was doubtful he had any real fighting experience. Plus, he looked rather delicate. Leiyu did not want to injure him in any way.

They faced each other with their swords drawn. Prince Thallios charged at Leiyu and swung his sword. Leiyu calmly held up his sword to block the incoming wooden blade. The hilt of Leiyu’s sword rattled as the blades connected.

Hmm, not bad. Perhaps he had underestimated the prince.

Prince Thallios’ eyebrows furrowed and his amber eyes had an unexpected intensity. Leiyu put his weight on one foot and leapt backward. The prince narrowed his eyes, gripped his sword, and ran towards Leiyu.

Pushing off on his toes, Leiyu leapt up right before Prince Thallios swung at him. He was now at least twenty feet in the air, looking downwards at the prince, who was looking upwards in awe. He flipped in mid-air and landed softly on his feet a short distance away, turning his head to look back at the prince.

Prince Thallios frowned slightly, his countenance cold. He started charging towards Leiyu once again. As he got closer, the prince leapt into the air with his sword raised. Then, something unexpected happened which made Leiyu gasp.

Prince Thallios’ eyes turned golden yellow and glowed like burning embers. He descended from the air and swiped his sword.

Leiyu was distracted by the prince’s eyes and only held his sword up at the last minute to block the attack. The force of the strike shocked him and sent him flying backward. His back slammed into the wall, jolting his nerves and rattling his bones. He went limp and slid down, slumping over when he reached the ground.

“Leiyu!” Prince Thallios tossed his sword aside and came running. His eyes had reverted to their normal amber color.

Leiyu exhaled heavily, still regaining his composure. Prince Thallios stood before him and began to reach out, then hesitated.

“Leiyu, are you hurt?”

Leiyu did not reply.

“I’m sorry!” The prince’s voice began to tremble. “I’m so sorry…”

Leiyu’s body was still tingling from the impact, but he was affected even more by the prince’s worried expression.

“It’s all right, Your Highness, I’m not injured.”

Tears welled up in Prince Thallios’ eyes.

“I’m just…very surprised…” said Leiyu. Was I seeing things? Or were the prince’s eyes actually glowing a different color earlier? And his demeanor was completely different. It was as if he was possessed.

***

Later that morning, Prince Thallios and Leiyu were seated at a table filled with food. There were flatbreads, dumplings, dolmas, palov, and kabobs.

So much food, Leiyu thought. Is he feeling bad about what happened earlier and trying to make up for it?

Prince Thallios did not eat any of the food. He simply sat there sipping tea and occasionally glanced shyly at Leiyu. Although he felt awkward sitting there in silence, Leiyu also felt that good food should not go to waste and grabbed a flatbread. While munching, he sensed something off to the side.

A peacock ran past them.

“What is that?” Leiyu asked

“Ah, he’s from our aviary,” Prince Thallios replied.

Leiyu looked at him quizzically.

“Would you like to see?” the prince asked.

***

The palace aviary was a domed glass building that was large enough to fit several trees. Birds of colorful plumage flew about and gave a symphony of chirps.

“My mother liked birds, so my father had this built and filled it with birds from faraway lands,” Prince Thallios explained.

Leiyu stared at his surroundings. Some of the birds hopped along the tree branches while others flitted in the water of the bubbling fountain. He shifted his gaze to the side. The peacock from earlier was standing there, its tail feathers fanning out. He had never seen anything like it before.

Prince Thallios smiled and walked over to the peacock. He kneeled and extended his hand. In his palm was bird feed. The peacock paused, then started to peck at the food.

Turning to Leiyu, Prince Thallios asked “Would you like to feed him?”

Leiyu walked over and crouched down next to Prince Thallios. The prince held his clenched fist over Leiyu’s palm, opened his hand, and deposited the remaining bird seed. The peacock walked straight to Leiyu’s hand and began to peck at the bird seed. Leiyu had a startled expression which eventually gave way to a smile. Prince Thallios smiled in turn.

***

Later that day, Prince Thallios and Leiyu returned to the courtyard.

“Leiyu, you said before that you practice wind magic?” Prince Thallios asked, recalling the story that Leiyu had told him the night before.

“Ah yes,” Leiyu replied. “I learned it while I was living in the Northern steppes.”

Prince Thallios’ eyes widened. “Can you show me?”

“All right,” said Leiyu. He held out his right hand. A few seconds passed. Tiny wind currents began to circulate above his palm, growing larger until they formed a whirlwind. Their hair and robes fluttered upwards. The trees swayed while leaves and flower petals flew chaotically. Leiyu closed his palm and the whirlwind extinguished.

The leaves and petals that had been flying through the air fluttered down in an aesthetically pleasing shower. Prince Thallios held out his hand to catch a falling petal and his face lit up in an expression of wonder.

***

Above the courtyard, a lone figure wearing a doppi stood in the shadows on a balcony, his crossed arms resting on the railing. He watched the two in the courtyard below with his solemn dark brown eyes.

He was Lord Oganesson, advisor to King Xenon.

“Your Majesty,” he said, turning to the person behind him. “His Highness the Crown Prince is spending a lot of time with this stranger from the East.”

“Oh?” came the reply.

“Should we be concerned?”

A hand grasped the balcony railing near Lord Oganesson’s resting arms. Moments later, King Xenon emerged from the shadows.

There were dark circles under his tired eyes and his mouth was downturned in a slight frown. He often suffered from insomnia and last night was one of those restless ones where he would lay down for hours, waiting for the escape into reverie that would never come.

He looked down into the courtyard at his son, who was smiling and chatting with the so-called stranger from the East. He sighed and pulled the corners of his mouth upwards until it formed a neutral line.

“It’s fine,” he said.

Lord Oganesson gave him a questioning look.

The king elaborated further. “This stranger may be the one in the prophecy…”