“How in the seven hells do people walk in these things?!” I growled as Catherine helped me up the stairs. She had refused to let me look into a looking glass, though I desperately needed to see what I looked like. She had shown me that I was going to be wearing the death traps called stilettos heels.
“You can take them off after your grand entrance into the ball.” She sounded wistful. She was brutal in her assessment of me, but it was nothing I had not already known. She was exact and meticulous, showing me that she was taking pride in how I looked, which was more than I did.
She led the way up the stairs, but I still did not want to go up them. I felt naked, my body felt exposed to the air and to the public. I tried to plead with Catherine to let me at least wear my face mask, but that was the first to go in her ideas. I know that she curled my hair, tried to kill me with heels and attacked my face with paint, but beyond that, I had no idea what I looked like.
I stopped a couple of steps before the curve to the top of the stairs. I took a deep breath and stepped out of the curve and into the large gathering room. I felt the cobwebs again, telling me that the truth spell was still in effect. Maybe I could use this to my advantage.
Except, nobody seemed to see me. I was fine with being invisible. I had been most of my life, anyways, until people realized who I was. I walked up behind Lumin and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and I watched his eyes light up, “You look lovely, Solaria.”
“Sori.” I corrected. “Now that I showed someone what I look like, can I take these death traps off?”
I watched him grin, “No.” He grabbed my hands and place one on his hips and held the other, “Not until you dance with me.”
I hated dancing, but with the heels, it was worse. As we twirled through the Elves, I actually felt myself feel better. Lumin led the dance, spinning us through the dance floor. I ended up stepping on his toes a couple of times, but he did not wince.
“I thought that royalty were supposed to know how to dance.”
I purposely stepped on his toes, “I did not think that footmen were trained how to dance.”
He whispered into my ear, “That is because I am not a footman by birth.”
I stopped our dancing. “What do you mean?”
He leaned in and kissed my forehead, “Love, there is a reason you and I are easy to be around. Did you know why your uncle never married?”
I shook my head, “He said it was because there was too much of him to go aroun… You are my cousin?!”
He just kissed the top of my head, “Of course I am, little cousin.”
The music slowed allowing him to pull me in close to him. I looked up at him, asking him the question that had be plaguing me for a few nights. “What happens if I die on this journey?”
This time he stopped abruptly. He pulled me away from the dance floor. “If you die, then I become ruler.” He rubbed my upper arms, “But you are not allowed to die. I chose to be a footman, and I do not want to rule over anyone. Anyways, I am not allowed to bury my younger cousin.”
I hugged him, “And if you die on this journey, I will pray that Kitarr will kick your arse.” I watched him get asked by an elvin lady, leaving me as a wallflower.
“Um, m’lady?” I heard a hesitant voice from my left. I turned to see Hiku staring at me.
I felt my heart harden as I spoke, “Yes, my Prince.”
He cringed at the way I spat his title, “May I speak to you?” I offered my arm, as customary when someone made a request like this. He pulled back a chair and after I sat in it, he pushed it up to the table. He sat in the chair across from me.
He stared at me and I really started to wonder what Katherine had done to me. “You wanted to talk?” I prodded, as I slipped the death trap heels off of my feet, relishing in the feel of the warm wood under my toes.
He shook his head, clearing his mind. He looked into his lap and started to fiddle with his hands, “Um…”
“You hate me. So why are we talking?” I asked him bluntly.
He looked up at me, “That is not true!” He picked up his chair and moved it next to me, “I do not hate you.” He sat down and sighed, “I wanted to apologize.”
I tried to keep my voice neutral and cold, but I had to admit that my heart skipped hearing that he did not hate me. “For which part? For almost killing us or for trying to give me frostbite when I pulled your blindfold off?” I crossed my arms on the table and laid my head down on them, never taking my eyes off of Hiku. The exhaustion of lack of sleep was starting to get to me and I wondered how long I would be able to stay awake.
He grabbed the hand closest to him, as he lightly kissed my hair, “I am sorry for everything. When I saw you and Erick together, I felt my world come crashing down around me. When you risked your life to save us, we returned the favor with anger. While you were talking to the Elders, the man smoking talked to us, explaining the situation. He told us that if you failed any part of the test, your life was forfeit, though we would have been free to go.” He lightly squeezed my hand, “Solari-”
“Sori,” I corrected automatically.
I watched as relief washed over him and he looked more at ease. “Thank you for everything and I am sorry for all that I have done to hurt you.”
“I told you two that you have to trust me. This is not a fairy tale adventure that I am sure you had thought it was. We could have really been killed today and we lucked out that I read about Elvish customs.” He was about to say something, but I stopped him, “I understand that I have lied to you and it is hard to trust me, but I promise you now that I will not lie to you anymore.”
He lightly touched my cheek and lifted me from my arms, “I will trust you.” He lightly touched my forehead with his, “Erick was not lying when he said that we fell in love with you when we first found you in that hallway. I realize that if you love him back, I will back away and leave you two alone.”
I looked at him and watched his eyes slightly glaze over, “Hiku, I cannot love him, just as I cannot love you. The last person that I loved was killed by Estein, so I have had to steel my heart away from people. I have tried to become cold and distant, but until my people are free, I cannot afford to fall in love with anyone.”
“May I have permission to do something?” He looked hopeful.
“It depends on what it i-” He brushed his lips against mine, a feathery light touch. He pulled away slightly, his face showing how terrified he was that I was going to hit or yell at him.
I was too shocked to do anything about it, so he leaned in again and this time, the kiss was deeper and where Erick was confident, Hiku was shy. I wanted to push him away but my body refused to move. He did not try to push farther passed our lips touching, but I felt like I wanted more.
He pulled away, “Do you trust me?”
Without even thinking, I answered. “Yes.”
When we kissed again, I felt a small static charge spark against my mind. I tried to relax, as he blanked my mind. He created the image of a forested glade, smaller than the one we had stayed in the night before. He bowed and asked quietly, “I know that you do not like to dance, but may I have one here?”
I nodded as I gave him my hand, “You may.” He stood up and pulled me close to him body. His skin was cool, but still warmer than I usually am. Music started to play from somewhere, a soft slow melody that helped us keep our minds on each other.
“Sori…” He looked down at me.
“After all of this is over, would you do me the honor of allowing me to court you?”
I took a step back from him, breaking the mind connect. I looked at him back in the oaken ball room. “That was a hell of a way to ask.” I growled, catching Erick’s attention. He sat down next to me, giving Hiku an odd look. I looked around, “Where is Lumin?”
I caught sight of him and waved him over. He sat down across the table from me. “Yes, m’lady?”
“I have to get this out there. Loves, after this is all over, I have a duty to my people to rebuild what Estein has destroyed. That might take my whole life fixing. I am sorry to disappoint you two, but at this point, I do not plan on being courted, tainted or married. There is also the chance that I will not survive using the Morokian Star to destroy the Akiti.” I looked to Lumin, “As my cousin and the next in line to the throne, you might have to take my place. I do not plan on dying, but it always a possibility.”
The three of them looked to one another then back to me. Hiku looked like a lost puppy, but I could not give him what he wanted emotionally. Hiku then smiled, “Well, then, Princess, I guess we will just have to woo you along this journey and help you change your mind.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but closed it when nothing came to mind. I had no retort for that statement and it did not seem to bother me as bad as I thought it would. Erick stood up and lifted me with him, “Now that Hiku was able to dance with you, it is my turn.”
He dragged me onto the dance floor just as the music picked up for a lively court dance. He and I kept messing up the dance, proving to me that this must have been an Elvish dance. I tried to watch some of the women to catch on, but they moved so fluidly, that I was unable to keep up.
I watched Erick trip and fall, but he was able to bounce right back up and kept on trying. I grinned to him and just as we started to realize the next part of the dance, the music stopped. Erick walked over to me, huffing for air, just as I was. The dress that I wore was tight around my body and I was having issues relearning to breathe in a corset.
Hiku and Lumin stood around me as we watched the old man standing on a platform raise up a goblet. “Since it is my birthday, I propose a toast.”
Cicero smacked his hand to his forehead, “Grandfather, it is not your birthday.”
He ignored his grandson, as goblets appeared in everyone’s hands. “The old year has waned and the new Eon approaches. The Light is starting to fade as Darkness encroaches.” He looked directly at me, “Tonight, we celebrate the twilight year, though some of us hold fear. We have visitors here who stood our trials, who still have to travel many miles.” The rest of the Elves looked to our team. “We bid them luck upon their task. There is only one thing I must ask. You now hold Ada’s future and fate… Will you stand to fight or take his bait?” I watched his eyes grow white and glaze over. His voice became deeper, “You worry about the roads ahead, whether or not you will find the dead. You will keep the promises that you have made.” His eyes became clear again and his voice back to normal, “To a warm and comfortable rest, to you we bade. Just trust in the Gods and thee…”
I answered him softly, “So mote it be… Blessed Be.”
He nodded as if he had heard me, “Raise your glasses!” Everyone raised their glasses into the air and I felt my goblet start to grow heavy. “And drink!” All as one, we all lowered our goblets and drained the dark red wine from the goblets, before they vanished.
We waited until everyone started to walk out, before I walked up to Cicero and his grandfather. He looked up to me and grinned, “Do you know how old I turn today?”
“How old?” I decided to play along.
He started to laugh as he hit Cicero on the chest, “I like her. She still pretends, even though she knows better.”
Cicero’s shoulders sagged, “Grandfather, we need to get you to bed.”
I looked at the older man, “May I ask you something?”
He nodded, his face sobering up, “What do you wish to ask, my dear?”
“Will it be worth it? Would it have been easier and better if I would have just given into him? He is only killing my people because I did not give myself to him.” I asked him softly.
He lifted a hand and lightly touched my face. “Easier? Maybe, but it would not have been better. What does your heart tell you?”
“I cannot trust my heart, for it tends to lead me astray.” One look from the older man told me that I should answer him. I sighed, “It tells me that he would have killed them anyways…”
The older man nodded, as his eyes became white again, his voice becoming two octaves deeper. “Worry not for those who are gone. They will become immortalized in the Sacred Song. Follow what you believe and there will be the answers you wish to retrieve. As dawn arrives and dusk departs, never again question their hearts. To find the answers you seek, you must find the dragons in the Valley of Taneek.” His eyes became clear again, “Cicero, I think it is time for sleep.”
I looked at Cicero and I saw the look on his face that told me that he had heard it too. He nodded to me, “I will get him to bed. Do you mind sleeping in the Chapel? Tomorrow morning, we can discuss the preparations for your journey to Taneek.”
The old man looked up at him, “Why are they going to Taneek?”
We both looked at the old man, astounded that he did not remember what he had said. “Grandfather, you just told her where the dragons are.”
The old man looked confused, “I did? But nobody knows where the dragons are.”
I bowed to them, “I think that I agree with you, my sir. I think it is time for sleep.” I looked to Cicero, “We shall meet tomorrow morning.” He led his grandfather away as I walked over to my companions, “We head to Taneek tomorrow. For tonight, we are to sleep in the Chapel.”
An Elf tapped Erick on the shoulder, “Lord Cicero asked me to take you to the Chapel. Please follow me.”
We followed the Elf through the trees until I was thoroughly lost. He opened a curtain and there were four beds for us to sleep in. The Elf bowed out as I found our packs. I grabbed the talismans and the dream catcher, as the males pushed the beds together. I placed the talismans up and found a large looking glass hanging on the wall.
I was not sure who was standing where I should have been. The lady in the looking glass had her hair up in a half bun, with soft curls hanging down, her face was painted with warm colors to bring out her hazel eyes. She still wore the silver framed glasses that I wore, but somehow, the paint behind them made them look better on her. The dress she wore was hunter green and made her look slimmer than I normally thought I could be. The bodice’s sleeves hung off my shoulders, showing the distinct lines from tan to white. The skirt poofed out a little, giving me the look of a grand lady.
Hiku, Erick and Lumin all looked at me through the looking glass. Hiku was wearing a black tunic and leggings with silver threading to accent his moon colored skin. Erick was in all white with gold, adding a sense of heated fire to him. Lumin wore dark blue that helped make his skins color cooler than usual.
“Beautiful?” Hiku offered.
“Pretty?” Erick smiled.
“Like a princess?” Lumin asked.
“Odd.” I answered them, lightly touching the glass. “I look odd to me, like this is not who I am. I see this lady in the looking glass and she is familiar, but different than I remember.”
Hiku looked thoughtful, “Maybe because you do not see yourself as we see you?”
I turned to face them, “I will probably never myself the way you three see me.” I covered my mouth while I yawned. “I can say that I need to sleep…” I felt the wine start to hit me, as I tried to walk. I stumbled into Erick, though my feet knew that the world should have not been tilting as it was.
Erick caught me, “How much have you had to drink?”
“Just that glass at the end.” I watched Hiku and Erick look at each other and exchange a look, “Hey, do not be looking at each other like that. It is not fair.”
Lumin snickered, “She cannot hold her wine. Are you sure that you are related to my father?”
I tried to kick him, but I missed. “Stupid, cousin…”
Erick helped me onto one of the beds. I fumbled with the clothes, before becoming entangled in the bodice’s ribbon. Hiku grabbed the ribbons from my hands just as Erick started to unpin my hair. It felt odd being stripped by other people, but I felt too drunk to dwell on it. Within a few minutes, they had me under the blankets on the bed, stripped down to undergarments.
I could hear them speak, but they were talking too softly for me to understand. I heard Lumin say something, but my world was swimming from exhaustion, the wine and the comfort of the bed. I felt the blankets move as the two Princes laid on each side of me. They wrapped their arms around me and in their warmth, I fell asleep.