They found her in the forest during one daily ride; she was covered with an animal hide and dancing in a clearing falling leaves twirling around her. Her tangled hair moved about her and it seemed as if the leaves were actually dancing according to her movements. In fact it was uncanny, as when she saw them and stopped abruptly lowering her arms, so did the leaves falling onto the ground as if they’d been held in the air by her gestures only. She appeared to be five or six years old and wild as an animal of the forest. But she was also curious as if she had never seen humans before and she stood there looking at them with eyes of silver. It was eerie and yet fascinating; the girl locked eyes with the queen. Those who were there said that when the child cocked her head sideways as she looked at their king’s wife and smiled they were all won. They were heard saying this smile was like the light of life shining in that clearing. The queen dismounted followed by one guard and walked towards the child. She knelt and held her hands out towards the child; the little girl observed her eyes filled with curiosity. She put her hand on the queen’s as her other went to the queen’s blond curls, through which she thread her fingers. What the queen said, only the guard heard but the child did not utter a word. She however looked down at the queen’s belly and placed her two hands on it for just a moment. Then she laughed merrily and it felt to everyone as if a fresh breeze came upon the clearing. Suddenly the young creature stepped into the arms of the queen who brought her back to the horses. The child was to be raised as theirs and the king agreed for he loved his wife and despite years of marriage there was no heir. The riding party came back to the castle with the child in tow who only seemed to express fear when the bridge was pulled and the doors closed. It was a new world and curious or not she suddenly was fearful. The queen, feeling the girl shudder against her brought her closer and soothed her with songs that she once heard her mother sing. And so it came that a child with no royal blood became heir to the throne of Eraldea.
“Sylvane, leave your brother alone.”
Alisea watched her two children as the elder walked towards her; her daughter was a gift and her son a miracle. She had always felt her daughter was the reason for her son but she would not voice such opinions at court. Sylvane hugged her brother quickly once more and whispered something that caused him to laugh. Then she left him to his riding lesson and joined her; there was so much love between them. In fact whenever her governess did not find Sylvane they knew to look for her where Felix was, even in his lessons with the master-at-arms where a lady did not belong. But Sylvane was not a regular lady; she belonged outside and there had been no stopping her when she decided to learn the arts of the sword. The only condition her parents had set was that she also learned the ways of women and she was as diligent with these as she was her fighting and riding. The queen and her husband understood very early that the child would not be happy if she were kept in a castle of stone so they moved her room by the high level gardens. It used to be the king’s mother’s favourite place. There were bushes and flowers, trees and moss that the girl seemed to love. The child was never happier than outside and most said she had grown into a wild young woman. If only they had seen her in the forest that day. She was tame now but Alisea and her husband knew that it was only an appearance; the wildness was still inside their child. What would bring it up to the surface? They could not guess, only hope it would not happen. Once was enough.
Yet Sylvane had grown into a beautiful woman and soon they would have to look for a match for her; she would not be heir to the throne after Felix was born but many houses would want to tie their destiny to hers. One name particularly had come up that she was not fond of but she would discuss this with her husband. For now she needed to prepare her daughter to the idea that soon men would come to court her. And maybe Sylvane would be as lucky as she was and really love her husband.
“He is not a good man my Lord.”
“I know Alisea. But he is powerful and I have but a few choices.”
“Give him something else.”
The King looked at his wife; he felt much the same way about Lord Pelaken but he had a kingdom to rule. His daughter called him then; her head was tilted as she observed him. It made him smile: she always did that when she was considering her next words. He also believed that she did that when she tried to read their thoughts. And maybe she really could. His daughter was so mysterious. When she spoke though, she was extremely serious.
“Father, I would rather see you and Felix safe. I will marry him to keep him away from the court.”
“That is not fair Sylvane, you have the right to a good husband.” His wife said with passion.
“Maybe Mother, but Felix is more important than me.”
“No!” He answered. “You are both equally important. And marrying you off to him does not mean he won’t threaten your brother.”
“You will know best Father.” She curtsied and moved to leave. She knew him well; he let her say her piece but would make his decision with his wife. Still she added. “But I would not be angry if you chose to make the kingdom more important than me. That man can only cause sorrow here.”
As Sylvane left he looked at his wife; they both knew – though neither ever spoke of it – that this child was the reason Felix was born and if Sylvane was not angry about being a pawn of the realm he knew his beloved would never forgive him to sacrifice her. He sighed…
He was standing by the Princess; she had always been his charge ever since that ride in the forest sixteen years ago to the day. The King and Queen might have adopted the little girl into their family but she had taken a place into his heart that he could not explain. He knew she was a way to life; he knew she was the reason Felix was born and he also knew she was the reason why this realm prospered. She was loved respected and cared for. But he knew as no other that she could not be tamed. Even tonight he could feel her restlessness. She was here because her betrothal was to be announced to a man he did not like at all; she told him she had convinced her father to agree to it. The man was no good for this kingdom and she wanted him as far away from court as possible. He would go with her and protect her from him if the King granted him leave. The King stood then and he came to attention as the entire court turned to their Lord.
“As you all know today is the day we celebrate my daughter. Happy birthday dearest Sylvane.” She smiled to her father as he raised his glass to her and the entire room cheered. The King raised his hand to ask for silence, which he obtained. “On this day we also welcome a new member in our Council.” Sylvane’s eyes darkened as she frowned. “As you know the passing of Lord Demalon left a seat vacant. And after thinking much about this, I have invited Lord Pelaken to join the Council and help rule this Kingdom. His knowledge of our Northern borders and his loyalty will make him a valued member.”
Even as the crowd applauded politely Bruno knew something was wrong; Lord Demalon was the King’s brother and as such held the most important seat on the Council after the King. He was much too close to the throne for comfort. Bruno looked at Sylvane and knew she was worried; but the queen looked at her daughter with a smile. That decision was the choice of parents not rulers. Lord Pelaken stood to accept the crowd’s applause. He bowed to the king before he spoke.
“I shall endeavour to serve the realm, the King and his heir, the Prince, to the best of my abilities from this day onwards.”
There was a silence in the room as the King looked thunderous. Everyone knew that Felix was to be the heir but it was ever to be announced on the day the Princess was betrothed. It had certainly not been the Councilman’s place to say it. He saw the man’s eyes move to Sylvane who had a bright smile on her face. The barb had been for her – why? She stood in turn and raising her glass she said.
“Congratulations my Lord Pelaken, my father has chosen a crafty man to fill his brother’s seat. I pray he and my brother both find your advice align with their generous hearts.”
He could have laughed as the new councilman’s face darkened. He had meant to unsettle her and she had answered in kind. But he would make her pay for that.
The rest of the meal passed without event until dessert; as was customary on a royal birthday, the princess was to serve the wine to the guests starting from the least among them to the King and Queen. He followed her as two maids were holding the trays with the cups. To every person she served Sylvane said a word; he was amazed at how well she remembered their names as if she had known each of them for a long time. They in turn wished her a happy birthday; and as their gratitude and love showered her she seemed to shine inwardly. Finally only four cups were left; she served the councilman with a smile before pouring wine into three cups for her parents and herself. As if to make up for his attitude Lord Pelaken offered to help and serve the king and queen. He even made to take the cups from her but she shook her head.
“It would be against tradition my Lord.”
As she brought the cups to her parents the councilman poured the last cup almost to the rim. In fact he had to put his hand over the cup that it would not overflow. Bruno shook his head; if that man did not understand tradition he would not last long. Bowing to the princess he said.
“I apologize for my words. They were out of place.”
He knew the words to be false yet he could see the King was listening to the exchange; he wished to see if his daughter could show graciousness at the apology, untrue as it was.
“They were my Lord but one new to public speeches does not always know how to voice words of gratitude. I never enjoyed them.” She offered him a smile. “You will be better. Let us be friends.”
He kissed her hand and she blanched somewhat. Something was wrong. Still she kept the smile as she went back to her seat by her mother. The Queen stood as well.
“In honour of my beautiful daughter, happy birthday.”
Everyone cheered again and drunk as the troubadours came in. He followed the princess as she joined them. She was the honoured person of the night and one they respected. They brought her a stool and a lyre so she could sing. Only it never happened as a scream came from the royal dais. He was by the princess in an instant. The King and Queen looked as if they were in pain having difficulty to breathe. The entire room seemed to be taken by panic and a commotion ensued. Sylvane screamed and tried to push through the crowd and he followed her. Suddenly a cold voice rang.
“The princess just poisoned the King and Queen.” It was the new councilman.
“I didn’t. Let me get to them. Move!” She was in pain as if she felt the way her parents did. He moved ahead of her and with his body parted the crowd. Only they moved by themselves now and soon he was standing by the Princess, Arnaud behind her and surrounded by guards.
He and Arnaud started fighting guards who did not belong to the royal guard; the man had replaced the king’s men with his own. Sylvane was still trying to get past them.
“Stop!” He ordered her.
She ignored him moving between the two of them and rushed towards the dais but two guards stopped her. She screamed. “Let me help them.”
He turned to look at her and was disarmed. Within moments so was Arnaud.
“Tsk tsk. A traitor and two king’s guards aiding her.”
He could see Sylvane’s body heaving as if she were having trouble to breathe. Only he knew that was not what she was doing.
“My Lady, don’t.” He cried.
She was not listening to him; he could almost see the pain as it etched itself within her. But before anyone could react the walls of stone tremble. Rocks detached themselves from the walls falling on the crowd; people panicked, running everywhere. The men around them scattered as if taken by the flood of people running towards the main doors. The councilman retreated from the dais as a few stone fell from the ceiling close to him. He and Arnaud hurried after the princess before she could reach her parents. He held her in his arms preventing her from going. She did not need to see this. She was fighting him but there was no point; The King was dead already and the Queen almost gone though she did try and shape two words that would follow him.
The scream that rose into that room was one of anger and despair. Sylvane was crying but had no strength left and so he and Arnaud could carry her away without too much difficulty. With the guests screaming and scurrying everywhere no one paid much attention to them and within minutes they were out of the castle galloping towards his estates and farther.
“No, no. You can’t stop. They are here.” She pulled her up and started running inside. Lenore did not want to run; she wanted to find her mother. She was scared; there were men outside the ramparts and they looked mean and ready to hurt them. But the beautiful lady did not look scared; she smiled to her but she seemed so sad. Lenore had seen her before; she was kind to people but the men outside they were here for her. They said she killed the King; she did not look like a villain. But her mother said sometimes you could not know. But she knew; the lady with silver eyes was not evil. But she was magical; the door behind them closed even though she did not push it, and then a second one. She looked in pain then; the magic was tiring. But she closed another door and then another. Lenore had never come to that part of the castle. It was very dark.
“How did you do that?” She asked the lady.
“It is not important child.”
“My Lady Sylvane!” The man who was always with her, called her. Sylvane had stopped to pick her up even though he told her to run. “They are inside, you have to go.”
“What of you Bruno?” She seemed scared then, but it was for the man, not for her.
“I am not leaving you here. Your mother trusted me to protect you.”
“But you cannot. Not today. You have to go my friend.”
“Sylvane you cannot protect yourself here, there is nothing… Four trees!” There were four trees here but what did that mean?
“I know… I have to take the risk. For my brother. Take her and go. Please.”
The guard took Lenore’s hand and pulled her into his arms. Only before they could leave the door opened and many men, at least ten – she knew how to count to ten now – entered. They had their swords out; the guard let her down pushing her towards the door but she stood there.
“Bruno! Go! Now!”
The guard took her hand again and pulled her as he moved but as he closed the door she moved past him. The men had stopped a little away from her and a few laughed at her. Lenore shrunk against the door trying to not be seen. Four men came at the lady but she moved… really fast. She looked as if she were shining too. But the tree next to her was losing its leaves. The lady had a sword. Did she know how to use it? Only men used swords. But no she knew how to use it and even when the others she defended herself well. In fact she hurt them all and they fell. But one man came to her with a knife and she was hurt even if she made him fall too. She looked in pain and scared…
“I am here Lady, I can help.”
She turned around to look at her and there were tears in her eyes.
“Oh child, why did you not go?” She pointed at the door. “Run! Please.” She whispered urgently. “Run!” The Lady seemed to beg her so she did run. But she could not close the door behind her, Lenore wanted to see. She would never forget what she saw even though she did not really understand and later many would say that it had been her imagination. But she knew she actually saw the lady extend her arms towards the small trees in the inner court.
“I’m sorry.” She heard the princess murmur before light shone through her and the trees lost their leaves. “Hide them.” The walls around Lenore started to fall. Bricks upon bricks they fell until there was a wall preventing people from reaching the door that they used to escape. But before Lenore could no longer see, the lady stumbled into the arms of the man who had come for her. Lenore only heard the man’s question as she turned and ran before the stones crushed her.
“Why did you do that?”
Lenore never heard the answer and would never know what became of the man though all knew the fate of princess.
He was worried about her; she seemed to wither here. After five months spending almost every hour of the day with her he very much doubted that she was the traitor they said. She seemed sad and no matter how many times his father questioned her, whenever they brought up her parents’ death her eyes would fill with sorrow and sometimes even tears. She was devastated by the loss. She was not responsible for their demise. They were wrong; he had to convince his father. Who had lied and discredited the princess? The prince? It was unlikely; the entire kingdom knew how close they had been until their parents’ deaths. But who could have convinced the prince that she was the one who poisoned them?
In front of him, she stumbled. She seemed to be having more and more trouble walking over the past few weeks. In fact she had not been able to train with the others in three, which might cause issues. She sat on one of the benches in the court and scratched her ankles. He knew there were two iron bracelets there but it should not bother as much. Her eyes moved towards the garden longingly.
“What is going on?” he asked.
She cocked her head at him; she was doing that a lot. It seemed to be her way to consider an answer or her next course of action. She would also do this when she tried to determine whether he was telling her the truth. She pulled at the trousers showing her ankles; she refused wearing boots and she was barefoot. But the skin on her ankles was raw, bleeding, infected almost. That was not good; they were supposed to keep her locked here posing as a man but she could not do anything and they were soon going to find out she was not part of the Duke’s guard.
“Why did you not say anything my L…?” She shook her head and he stopped. There were men around. She whispered.
“Can you take one off?” He had one key; he could. But he was not supposed to.
She acquiesced and looked at the garden door again. He nodded and helped her up. Supporting her, they walked to the garden. He locked the door behind as she stumbled away from him. When he turned to face her there was a world of a difference in her composure. She was sitting in the dirt, pushing her hands into the earth and her eyes seemed to be illuminated for a moment. He sat beside her. She extended her leg without shame… he, on the other hand, was ill at ease. Though the son of a duke he was not meant to touch the skin of a princess. Only her betrothed was supposed to. He shook himself; she was not of royal blood and she was considered a traitor. Yet he felt he was violating tradition and he was about to remove one of the shackles that impeded her. Gently he took her leg; her skin was soft and yet the bottom of her foot was calloused as if she had ran in the dirt and outside her entire life, which he supposed she had not. He removed the iron from her and within a moment she had stepped away from him. Gone seemed to be the lethargy and yet he did not fear she would try to escape. She was only a few meters far by one of the trees that had moss at its feet and she placed her foot in the middle of it. She almost hugged the tree putting her hands on its trunk, caressing the bark gently. He knew that she had curious powers; he saw what she did to those trees when she protected the little girl who was still in the room where he caught her. But that was something else. The moss seemed to be drying turning brown as her skin started to heal and lost its chalky white colour. Once she was healed she sat and put her hands on the moss, which returned to its original state. When she turned to face him, her eyes were silver and she smiled for the first time since he brought her here.
“Thank you.” She murmured.
“How did you do this?” Her head moved in a way he was now very familiar with.
“It’s all about love… I can show you.”
He hesitated; should he? He was curious… but he had a duty. He tensed and he could tell she did too, as if she knew what his answer would be.
There was a sad look in her eyes for a moment before she nodded. She walked back towards him and pulled on the trousers again to allow him to put back the shackle. He shook his head no.
“One is enough. We do not wish to kill you.”
She laughed joylessly.
“You may not, but he does.”
Whoever he was, it was not his place to question his father at least not with her. He would ask questions but he would not take decisions that could change their course without his father’s approval. Together they walked back to her room where he advised she rested. It would be unwise to show the others that she was feeling better without her staying in the room for a while. Soon they would have to show she could fight or there would be unrest among the guards and his father could not let this happen. The Guard of Likardan was supposed to be best in the kingdom second only to the King’s Guard; but since the latter was disbanded after his death when it was revealed two of their members betrayed their oath and allied with the traitorous princess, most youth were coming here. He could not have known how right he was and how his choice would influence the outcome.
They took the impostor from his room after the castle and most importantly the duke’s son fell asleep. Daniel was taking his duty to shadow him very seriously. The key they stole from their lord’s son did not in fact open the man’s room but still it was kept. They forced the door open and overpowered the lying figure. Even one of them would have been able to do so but why take a chance? They blindfolded him and put a cloth in his mouth before dragging him outside. All was perfectly organized; the guard on duty at the drawbridge was aware of this and opened the portcullis for them. Theo had looked after the mounts and they could all go. He brought the frail man onto his horse; how could a man be so light? They galloped until they reached a clearing they would exercise in with the master-at-arms. No one would hear the screams. He pushed his passenger down without tenderness. At least he did not whimper or whine about it. Damien removed the blindfold and the gag. The man tilted his head; he had seen him do that before when talking to Daniel.
“What do you want?” The voice was soft, almost effeminate. Why was he accepted among the best guard of the realm? Still there was something eerie about his eyes; under the moonlight they almost looked silver. No one answered and Theo dropped a sword at the man’s feet. Again there was that move of his head, as if he were considering what to do. And then he smiled taking it up.
Theo and Damien attacked as Raymond and the two others who had joined them circled around them; he had to admit he was somewhat impressed. Frail as the man was he seemed to be dancing with that sword. The leaves in the trees rustled softly and some of those on the ground seemed to start flying around the fighters. Still his friends were faster; and at some point a sword pierced the man’s defence ripping through his shirt… or her shirt. Their newest member was a woman! He dismounted as the others stopped.
“What is this treachery?” He asked. “Women have no place here.”
“What a surprise,” Raymond interrupted, “I haven’t had a woman in a while. There are so many more ways to enjoy one. Who knew? Is that why the little duck is staying so close? Is he your lover?”
She looked at the man without answering. If anything her eyes went cold a dark grey. Though he could not have said why he knew she was angry. And for some reason it frightened him.
“Let her go.” He ordered. “This is not what we talked about.”
“Oh no Nathaniel. She is fair game now that she is here.” Before anyone could stop him Raymond had jumped on her and was pinning her down. He should not have asked the man to come; he was a brute. But he was also a great fighter and they had wanted to make a point. That was a bad idea. Decided to stop him, he walked towards them but Raymond’s two friends blocked him both their swords resting on his chest. The wind around him suddenly seemed chillier.
“He is right. It is going to be fun.”
“It is not right. This is not what we do.”
Behind them Raymond tore the rest of the shirt revealing a skin white and unscarred like those of nobility. He suddenly pulled the trousers off the woman revealing a shackle on one ankle. With a smirk he turned towards them. Theo and Damien seemed to have frozen and were hesitating.
“This is probably where that key belongs. Give it to me Nathaniel. She will want to feel me over her entire body.”
He did; what else could he do now? That was not at all what he had in mind. Frightening and testing one who did not deserve being here was one thing but raping a woman who was obviously under the duke’s protection was another. And there was something familiar about her eyes now that he thought of it. The key fit perfectly into the bracelet.
“Damien, Theo, stop him.” He said with more confidence than he felt. They were evenly matched and a fight would not go well. But then a voice resounded behind angry and maybe a little scared.
“Why did you bring her here?” Daniel asked. “You knew she was not to leave the castle.”
“So you knew. Is she good in bed?” Raymond sneered.
“You are as stupid as brutish Raymond. Let her go.
The man ignored the Duke’s son – he would be punished for that – and started turning the key. “What will you do about this little duck?”
“Me? Nothing. But I would not do that if I were you,”. He was angry but this was a warning.
“Why ever so?”
“Because she will kill you.”
Raymond snorted. “Like a little girl can hurt me.” And he turned the key, the bracelet falling down.
“Nathaniel you should move back.” His lord’s son whispered behind him.
But he could not keep his eyes off the woman; her lips had curved into a smile as the shackle fell down and quick a snake, she kicked Raymond in the chest forcing him to stagger away from her.
“You bitch!” He growled.
She was on her feet and around her leaves started twirling as the wind around the clearing howled. He gasped as her auburn hair cascaded down to her hips and leaves set about her as if it were cloth and turned into a tunic and breeches. What was this witchcraft? Her eyes shone in the silvery light that he had thought moments before were caused by the moon but now realized where the real colour of her eyes. She suddenly looked as a goddess of nature. He did not really see what she did but he heard a sound beside him as suddenly branches seemed to rush past him and seized Theo and Damien wrapping themselves about their bodies. The two men who stood in front of him were fighting against roots attacking them relentlessly. Raymond looked about him in terror as the trees seemed to attack him; still the man was a fighter and he turned to the woman as he yelled.
“Will you use magic to fight, coward?”
Unfazed, she replied, “Yes. But not only.”
Picking up the sword she approached the man; the forest seemed to move away from her. And she fought; she was fast when fighting Theo and Damien but now she was faster as if the shackle had weakened her. That might explain why she always looked so frail. But now she was not. She was strong and in complete possession of her strength. Soon Raymond was only parrying and in fact he was struggling and panting. He did not even see the attack that killed him. But he stumbled and looked at the woman in horror before he fell. Still she knelt beside him and brought her hand to his heart and she spoke in a gentle voice.
“I do not like to see lives wasted. Will you fight for me if I save you?”
Nathaniel tensed. Behind him Daniel’s hand rested on his shoulder.
“Who are you?” Raymond asked in an angry whisper.
“I am Sylvane, princess of the realm. I intend to fight the Regent and prove him a traitor.”
“You’re the witch?” There was anger in his voice. “Go to the seven hells where you belong.”
“Fine.” She removed her hands and stepped away from the body. The trees and branches closed in on Raymond again and soon he had disappeared.
“Where has he gone?” The Duke’s son asked.
“To a better place.” She answered cryptically. But she smiled then. “You came to find me?”
“I did. I am supposed to look after you and I did not.”
“What of the others?” Nathaniel asked. The two men were still struggling with the forest and Theo and Damien were still held by trees. Again that head move as she considered. She approached them. The roots retreated and Raymond’s two acolytes looked at her. One of them fell on his knees. The other eyed his friend and the woman before he violently raised his sword to be swallowed in an eye blink by the roots and as he screamed he disappeared. She looked at Theo and Damien then at him; he was hit by the intensity of her gaze. She was not really of this world; there was no other way.
“What of you three? You now know who I am and I don’t know that it was meant to be that way. He will be aware of it soon and they will come for me. What will your father do my Lord?”
Lord Daniel looked at him and at the two men still held by trees before he answered.
“My father has been weary of the Regent for a while but is not willing to antagonize the Prince. He cannot support you in this, but he will not oppose you either.”
“So I take it you trust these four men with this information?”
“Roland has chosen you.” He pointed to the kneeling man. “And I trust other three.”
“Despite what they did tonight?”
“What they did tonight was try to understand. Though misguided their actions were not entirely wrong.”
She smiled as if his answer had finally provided some insight into Daniel’s character.
“Well I hope you deserve that trust gentlemen.”
Theo and Damien were suddenly released and fell onto the ground. They seemed hesitant.
“Do we have to swear loyalty to her?” Theo asked the Duke’s son but she answered.
“No. You don’t. Your oath is to my brother as is mine. The throne belongs to Felix but he trusts the wrong man and I am worried it will cost him his life.”
“Where do you want to go my Lady?” Daniel asked.
“Where I was headed when you found me my Lord.”
And so they rode to the fiefdom of Esterel where the traitor Baron Bruno former member of the King’s guards rebelled against the Regent’s rule.
She had stopped them before dismounting. She was crying. It was indeed a sight that could make one cry; the forest had burnt to the ground and though still at least ten leagues from the castle they could see it standing by the mountain. The Duke rode by Sylvane.
“He knew you would come my Lady. He knew how you would react to this.”
So the Regent had destroyed the forest. Even from behind he knew that her eyes were dark and when her back straightened he saw the resolve. She was not going to let this daunt her.
“Then he shall wait.”
“What?” It was the Count of Ralmen. “But…”
The princess looked at him, her eyes a dark grey.
“There is something I must do.”
She pulled her boots and her gloves off and started strolling along the lines of what would have been the edge of forest. Bruno was at her side and walked with her. For a full day the walked back and forth she with her feet and hands bare, the Duke holding her hand and supporting her. She did the same the next couple of days as they settled camp. However over the next day she started to walk with more difficulty as if this was taking its toll upon her. She seemed to be cold as during the third afternoon the Duke put his cloak around her; by then she appeared to struggle to remain upright. Whatever she was trying to do was obviously not working and hurting her. After dinner that evening he approached the tent they had put up for her. At the door stood Roland and Arnaud: Daniel knew now that this was the second man who stood by the princess the night her parents died.
“What do you want here?”
“I want to see the princess.”
“You cannot enter now my Lord. She needs rest.”
He did not insist and nodded. He was worried though; if she meant to protect her brother she had to keep her strength but now she was giving it all to the forest. Naturally once life coursed through the roots and leaves, she would recover her energy but what if it killed her first? He found he could not sleep that night trying to find a way. The next day he ate quickly before finding Nathaniel, Roland and Theo. Damien was on guard. He explained to them what he thought he understood and they agreed. When the princess left her tent that morning the four of them walked up to her. Arnaud and Bruno stood by her ready to protect her if they needed.
“My Lady. We will walk with you today.”
“Why?” Bruno asked. He looked at the princess and smiled.
“You told me that it was all about love. We want to offer you ours.”
Her eyes shone for an instant as her head moved in its oh so familiar way and her lips curved into a beautiful smile.
And so for the day, in turn two of them held the princess’ arms as she walked. Daniel felt the tingle of energy in his fingertips once in a while as he touched her. He could tell the others were just as amazed at what they felt and maybe at the fact that they were touching the skin of the princess. They were probably as aware as he was that time in the garden that it was not tradition. And yet, she did not seem to mind. That night she was stronger, tired but not as exhausted. He on the other hand felt heavy and he fell asleep right under his blanket. The next morning gasps of surprise awoke him. The black and grey desert they arrived to a few days before was spotted with green and brown; here and there saplings of trees were showing their heads pushing through the earth to come up into the sun. Moss was spreading. When the princess came out that day, the entire army – but three full watches – that followed her was waiting and all of them followed her as she stepped through the newly born trees and bushes. Once in a while she would kneel and hold her hands on a tree or caress the grass. He knew she was still giving a lot but now she could get back; and the support of the army behind her would help her heal the forest faster. That evening all who took part in that walk were elated as if drunk. Daniel was standing by the wall they had built around camp when she came to him. The wind seemed to change when she was near him. He felt both warmer and chillier. As she stopped he saw she still looked tired though not as before.
“Will you walk with me again my Lord?”
“At night Majesty?”
“Yes. Nature at night is a beautiful thing.”
“You are ever beautiful my Lady.”
She laughed softly. He realized it was the first time he had heard her laugh.
“Why, thank you Daniel.”
She hooked her arm around his and the two of them walked to the slowly growing forest. He realized she was still wearing no boots or gloves.
“Are you not cold?”
“Never here.” She paused. “Will you do me a favour?”
“You can ask.”
“Would you take off your boots as well?”
He hesitated; she once offered to show him how her powers worked. He refused then; why would she make this gift again? She tilted her head again.
“You knew how to help me. Don’t you want to know why?”
He removed his boots and stockings as she observed him eyes shining with silver. Then he took her hand… and felt as if lightning had struck close. The energy was everywhere flowing through him and through her from under his feet to his heart and head down to his fingers and into her.
“Nothing is dead… it is only asleep. Do you feel it?” He nodded. “With love and generosity life will always bloom… You have both in your heart.”
He brought her palm to his lips and brushed it softly.
“I do.” She looked up at him; she was about to do it so he placed his hand on her face. “Don’t. You do not need to read my mind to know what I feel.”
She smiled. “You have come to know me well.”
He had but he did not answer; instead he lowered his head and placed his lips on hers. They were full and soft and tasted like honey and grapes. One could get drunk on this taste. At first she did not move as he brought his arms around her waist. But then she answered him, kissing his lips softly. The jolt of energy that coursed through them then almost caused him to cry, but she smiled against him parting her lips only a little. Unable to help himself he opened his too gently pushing his tongue into her mouth. He was tender imagining that maybe she had never kissed before; yet there was something stirring deep within, a need, a quickening of his blood and he could feel hers leap in answer. Around them the wind whistled and the moonlight seemed to find them in the newly reborn forest. His feet tingled, his entire body seemed to tremble and he could feel her shudder against him. He brought her down and answering the need and desire within he unlaced her gown. He was not entirely sure how it happened only that she wanted it too. It was only later after he spent and she shuddered underneath him that his head started spinning. He collapsed beside her and looked at her to realize that it had not been the moonlight that shone upon them. He had not understood. The light was coming from her; her eyes burnt of their silver light and her entire body seemed alight. She really was a goddess larger than life, than love and this had only been a dream. When she took his hand, he let her… and felt through her how around them the forest grew.
“Is it not amazing Daniel? Life?”
He looked at her; she was so much more than any of them could ever imagine.
“It is. Though I am not sure men are meant to see this or to claim you Sylvane.” A sudden sadness appeared in her eyes the light from within dimming slightly. He kissed her brow. “But I am grateful you showed me. I am grateful for the gift you offered me.”
He blinked. He was only a mortal; she was not of this world. She was a goddess, of life or nature he didn’t know but she was so far above him. How could he ever have deserved her trust and what she had just given him? When he looked at her again though, he only saw the young woman he guarded before: beautiful, sad and alone. But she was not alone; he would die but would be with her till she left. She would; she was free. He would not hold her. But he would be with her until then. Silently they dressed and walked back to the camp. He fell asleep knowing that he would awake to see a forest restored to its former beauty and dreaming of what had happened.
She had been silent for the past days as they rode throughout the forest. Something had changed. He knew what the army did the day before they entered the woods was not enough to heal the forest in the way it did. Something else had happened. In fact the eyes of the Duke’s son were telling part of the tale; he had allowed her to use her full powers. It had probably frightened him. And she was hurt. Why? And how? Sylvane was not willing to talk of what happened though he tried to discuss the subject with her. She was not willing to talk at all in fact. Arnaud believed that she was concentrating on the battle ahead; how could she depose the Regent without endangering her brother’s life? His old friend happened to be right in that; but he knew her better than most and there was something else. The night they established camp at the feet of the castle Sylvane summoned them all to her tent and she explained what she intended to do and how she wanted them to play the entire thing out. Both he and Daniel expressed strong opinions as to how dangerous that entire plan was, but she would brook no argument. That did not mean he and the Duke’s son could not develop another path of action should the first fail or play in a way that differed from her plans. Only Arnaud and the four men who came with Daniel were included in that second discussion. The next day, they met with the Regent’s envoys. He could not help but think Sylvane would have made a wonderful ambassador for her father. When they left the envoys had obtained no concession but carried the message that she would only discuss with the Regent mid-way between the castle and their camp. He would come with a dozen men as was customary and so would she. Bruno chose the five other men himself but he, Arnaud and Daniel would be closest to Sylvane. He would not let anything happen to her. And since the Regent had used poison before he would probably use it again.
As she rode to meet the Regent, Bruno had to admit Sylvane looked more like royalty than she ever had. She was riding side saddle in a dark purple gown, her hair in the same coil her mother would wear and held with the silver diadem her brother offered her. He remembered that day; he and Tristan had walked with them in the market place for a little while. A child who was selling flowers caught Sylvane’s attention and Felix found a small stand with simple jewellery; the diadem had caught his eye. It was “the same colour as Sylvane’s eyes.” He had begged until Bruno let him to spend the entire allowance their parents gave him for that month. Some of the nobles brought forth a newly wrought circlet of gold and diamond and tried to convince her to wear it but she refused; hers was a symbol of love.
She had come; of course she would. When he had not attended the meeting at their pre-arranged place she had ridden here, probably against her men’s wishes. He smiled. Predictable; she had even taken the time to bring forth the forest and probably depleted all her forces in the process. But love was trailing her and it always made for a difficult confrontation. He had almost lost it all once before: not this time. She would come and do whatever he wanted; for the sake of her brother she would do what needed to be done.
Standing by the portcullis of the castle surrounded by his own men, he took a moment to observe her and her guard. He wetted his lips; she looked very regal even without shoes, beautiful even, and more tame than she ever could be. He knew better than underestimate her though; there was a power of destruction within her that she had rarely called upon but that could very well undo all he had worked so hard to achieve. And her coming would allow for the culmination of his success. He knew from her gaze that she was determined and unless he was mistaken sad. There was also a hint of something that had not been there the last time. She might know then.
“Sylvane,” he addressed her with a slight nod as she arrived.
“Lord Pelaken.” It seemed he was not the only one decided not to acknowledge the other’s status. Not that it mattered really: not for much longer at least.
“You have come…”
“As you knew I would.” She interrupted. “Let us not play games Lord Pelaken. What do you want?”
“You have to ask?” She had remained on the horse and she looked at him from a place of height her head cocked in a way that everyone seemed to recognize. It was interesting; he could read most of the men’s faces and know which would rather die than see her do what he would demand. But she knew what that would be; she had prepared for it.
“I do not but I would have you say it in front of witnesses that we may negotiate in a somewhat more forthcoming manner.”
“I want what the king denied me.”
“And will you retire to your estates if you did?”
He met her eyes and smiled. She dropped off the horse gracefully and approached him followed closely by the guard who protected her that night two years ago and by the Duke of Likardan’s son. He smirked. Despite being the one who finally captured the traitorous princess he had fallen in love with her: deeply too though he tried to hide it. She did not acknowledge either of their presence though her eyes intent upon him.
“I would see Felix.” He had expected that; so predictable.
“Fine but only two of your men can come in.”
The entire contingent seemed to come to life with a “no!” that came out of their lips at the same time. The Duke’s son took her hand not without gentleness; again she did not acknowledge the touch. Interesting. So she loved him too; what happened?
“He will try and kill you.”
“No. He won’t.” The certainty in her voice made him look at her; she may know after all.
“I will not.” He added. “Since I want her to be my bride she can’t be dead.”
The look of horror on their faces was priceless. Hers showed only a quiet intensity.
“Stop playing Lord Pelaken. Let us be done with this.”
He turned and surrounded by his own guard guided them in. They did not speak behind him but he guessed that Bruno and that young man had claimed the right to accompany her. Well they would for part of the way, not all of it. She walked slowly behind him deliberately as if taking the time to look around the place where she had become a young woman. He knew better though. When they crossed into the royal apartments his guards moved behind her and stopped her men. She paused then as the two men drew their swords; they were vastly outnumbered but apparently did not care.
“Bruno, Daniel.” So that was his name. “Do not die this day. It is nothing more than I expected.” He raised an eyebrow; she had known and had not told them? Even more interesting.
“My Lady,” Bruno pleaded dropping to his knees tears streaming down his face. “Do not do this. It is folly. I beg of you.”
“I must. For Felix.” She looked at the Duke’s son. “Thank you for your gift. It might have been a dream, but it was a beautiful one.”
She might not have depleted her strength in the forest then if the man had given him her love. This might not go as easily as he hoped. The man bowed deeply just as he whispered breathlessly.
“I will treasure the memory.”
She turned to him then and nodded; they went on walking up the stairs towards the room where the prince remained. The guards at the door opened for them and he stepped aside leaving her space to see her brother. She did not disappoint as she dropped to her knees, leaning on one hand that she would not fall entirely.
“What have you done?” She whispered her voice thick with tears that she did not let fall.
“I did not do anything. You did.”
She looked at him and there was anger in her eyes.
“You mean to say it is my fault. As you said I killed my parents?”
“They were not your parents. It is high time you accept this. You do not belong here. You do not belong with humans.” He knew it sounded harsh but she must hear and heed the truth.
“They loved me and I them. They were all I needed. And Felix.”
“You can deny the truth all you want. But you… we do not belong here.”
“Why?” She sounded angry and if she had not her eyes would have told him as much. He could tell she was gathering some power about her. He could almost see her gifts. “Why would you do this to me, to Felix? What did we ever do to you?”
“It has nothing to do with that.”
“Who are you?” She interrupted.
“You know exactly who.” She looked as if the truth was within her reach but she was too afraid to grasp it. So he continued. “Let them say I am evil. I do not care. What I did I did out of necessity. You were never meant to come here; your gifts are meant to be shared not held close. This kingdom has known such wealth that many beyond its borders are left with nothing.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do. You understood the day you took my hand, the day I killed your parents that you might agree to leave here. I am the winter to your summer child; the old man to your youth; the gift of death to balance your gift of life. We don’t belong in castles.”
Understanding filled her eyes.
“But you are a Lord of this realm, don’t you belong here?” She was bargaining now.
“I borrowed an identity Sylvane. I am not Lord Pelaken. And you are not a princess named Sylvane.” He shed his disguise then and she gasped. He could see the change in her eyes; she was called to him in the same way he was to her. They were two sides of the same coin. She knew him; her power gathered around her compelling. She struggled against it and gasped. “Don’t fight it.”
Casting a glance towards her “brother’s” lying figure her shoulder sagged. Defeat. She knew.
“He was born because I brought life to his mother’s womb?” He nodded. “Will he die?”
“He doesn’t have to. You can wake him up or I can let him die.”
“Hence the glass?”
“I would not touch him until you came and made a decision. You must come with me.”
“What if I don’t want to?” She asked but it was half-heartedly. He was gentle when he answered; moving towards her he knelt and brought his hand to her face. She shuddered not as humans did; really she flickered. She would soon assume her natural appearance the one she had denied for almost two decades that she might fit in the human world.
“There is a price to pay; every life has a price. This child was not supposed to be born. That is why I could come here under Lord Pelaken’s identity. Death has hovered over him his all life. But because he cannot stay nor leave he has become a force of destruction more powerful than I.”
“He is lying between the worlds of the living and the dead hesitating between his love for you and the knowledge that he should not be here. He will unwittingly destroy everything if we don’t leave.”
“Can I say good bye?”
He smiled then and gathered her in his arms; as he did he felt a contentment he had not felt since that day he had seen a queen take his daughter, his sister, his lover, his mother away from him. He had been incomplete since then. She was the spring to his fall, the eternal child to his old age. Out of each other they were reborn each year. He could tell from the way she held him she felt somewhat the same though the sorrow of leaving her brother but also the young Daniel, Bruno and the others hurt. She had loved them. Some more than others he realized. He chuckled: a gift of life indeed.
“What?” He kissed her brow.
“Nothing you should worry about yet. Wake him, say good bye and let us be gone.”
She was still flickering holding onto the appearance of a twenty odd year old woman until she had said her farewells. Delicately she lifted the top of the prince’s glass coffin. She brushed her fingers against his cheek gently before she pressed a kiss on his brow then his lips sending air to his lungs, lending him her breath. Felix opened his eyes and met hers; he smiled as he sat upright.
“I knew you would come.” She remained silent as he took her hand. “You have to leave, don’t you?” She nodded apparently incapable of speaking. “I heard them say it. The trees they miss you. Our parents should not have brought you here.”
“I’m not. I loved you. I love you.”
“And I love you little brother. For always and always.”
The young prince turned to him and nodded his emotions warring: anger but respect also.
“I cannot forgive you for killing my parents even though I understand what you are and that it was necessary. But make sure she is safe.”
“As I have since before Eraldea was born my Lord Felix.”
“You lost her; it could have been to crueller people than my parents.”
He shuddered and nodded. He knew that very well; he was not ready to forget the time he had actually almost lost her.
“Shall we?” She turned and nodded. After hugging Felix once more she came to him her powers swirling about her as his were about him. Even as light and dark mingled, snow and leaves, rain and cloud whirled around them, the door burst open letting through the men that had accompanied her. They were too late.
Daniel had left the castle as soon as Council was over despite the King’s invitation to stay. He knew the honour bestowed upon him should make him proud only spending time here reminded him of her. It was almost a year since the princess sacrificed herself that she might destroy Lord Pelaken and restore her brother to life. He missed her every day and dreamed of her every night. That night he stopped where a year ago they had made camp that she might revive the forest; it was stupid but he felt a deep need to be there. He settled by his horse with the starlit sky for blanket; he remembered how she had shone naked in the moonlight. So when a pool of light seemed to move towards him he was not surprised. Only it was a child barely five or six years old carrying a bundle almost too big for her. He sat up against his mount as she reached him. She smiled as she extended the bundle towards him for him to take. When he did she loosed a peal of laughter that made him shiver; he knew that laugh. The bundle in his arms moved; he looked down. It was a baby, just about two months old, a girl with long locks, dark as his own but eyes of silver. He looked up in shock. The girl put her hand on his mouth as he meant to speak. She spoke in a voice that was at once known and unknown, young and old but mostly filled with love.
“It was a beautiful dream.”
Before he could say a word she had disappeared in the night as if swallowed by the night.
He startled awake against his horse realizing he had indeed fallen asleep in a sitting position. That had been a curious dream; or was it? He looked down and gasped. The baby was here happily squirming against him and extending her hands towards him. He gathered her in his arms suddenly overwhelmed with something he had not expected to ever feel. Was that love? He whispered softly.
The child laughed happily in answer.