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Rook and Shadow
The Fairy Divinia’s Spell
Spoken over Princess Salara on the day of her birth
Dark as a rook’s wing, hair flows like the Ghone.
Night prism eyes reflect colors unknown.
Moonlight complexion, pearly reflection.
By every standard, you are perfection.
Radiant voice like the song of a star.
Reddest of roses, loveliest by far.
I name thee Salara, Salarian princess,
Born to be queen of them all.
Ideals align, beauty be thine.
Names, souls, and destinies all intertwine.
I crept through my dark bedroom, pushed the tapestry on the wall aside, and crawled through the opening behind it. Seda, my kitten, ran between my legs and tripped me as he clawed the hem of my night gown. I stood still until he tired of the game. Slivers of moonlight filtered through cracks in the stone. Seda’s white fur caught the light as he ran.
As my eyes adjusted I could follow his shape against the dark stones. When we reached the end of the tunnel, even more moonlight flooded through the rotting trap door above us. I climbed the rock wall, and Seda climbed my nightgown until he sat on my shoulder.
Fresh sea air flooded the dank tunnel as I opened the door and climbed onto the tower. Stars twinkled overhead, fading gradually into the predawn light.
Seda walked on the edge of the tower railing, watching birds fly over the ocean. I stood motionless, soaking in the view and solitude. Waves crashed on the shore far below me and drowned out the voices of sailors and merchants getting an early start on the docks.
I joined Seda at the edge and leaned over it. A narrow staircase without a railing wound around the tower. I climbed it once in the middle of the night, clinging to the wall and hoping no one noticed my white nightgown against the dark stone. I expected the stairs to lead somewhere interesting. The castle treasury, perhaps. Or even beyond the castle to a different part of the city. Instead, they led me to the castle’s main garden. A disappointing reward for such a dangerous climb, since I visited the garden often. I did not use the stairs again.
Although the staircase stopped at the garden, the tower stretched downwards and blended into the town below. Castlemont, the capital of Salaria, was divided into tiers. Ramps made of large stones and packed dirt connected the flat platforms of earth circling the mountain. Without the tiers, the mountain ground would be too steep for a city. Top levels held large houses inhabited by nobility. The middle tiers, home to artists and servants, held humbler dwellings. Individual houses in Lower Castlemont were indistinguishable from one another. If there were walkways between the shacks, they must be very narrow. The lower part of the city looked like one enormous roof, patched and faded and badly needing repair.
At the bottom, the Ghone River spilled into the sea, and a port just outside Castlemont’s protective wall bustled with activity. Sailors loaded crates of salt and checked ropes on massive ships with fluttering white sails. Smaller vessels sailed up the Ghone into the heart of Salaria. They disappeared into the forest, although the sails of larger ships floated above the trees like ghosts. Beyond the forest, open fields and tiny villages stretched to the Weeping Mountains, the source of the Ghone. I could just make out the silhouette of the mountain range in the light of a sun not yet risen.
I rummaged through the crate I kept on the tower. Under the books on magic technique I had sneaked out of the library, I found my gold opera glasses. I turned to the ocean, examining the ships too far away to see without aid. The wind pulled strands of hair from my floor length black braid and whipped my face with them. The usual ships sailed along the coast. Navy vessels, both men and ships clean and polished and identical. I skipped past them. The merchant ships intrigued me. Their stained sails and tattered crews hinted at stories I could only imagine, and they had almost as many canons on their decks as the naval vessels to protect against pirates.
I watched the flags flutter in the breeze. None of the ships in sight flew the flag of New Salaria. Surely the delegation would not be delayed another day? The ocean glowed pink as the sun progressed towards the horizon.
Too near the horizon. I needed to hurry back.
I climbed through the trap door and pulled Seda with me. He yowled as I shut it and carried him back down the tunnel. Golden sunlight slipped through cracks now, but it was still much darker than being outside. Before my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I reached my room and pushed aside the tapestry blocking the tunnel entrance. I took a moment to adjust it so no one would discover my secret. I wouldn’t have found the passage without Seda’s help, and I had lived in this room my entire life. The secret tunnel continued past my room to Lady Alma’s studio and the council chambers, although I never went that way. Too many courtiers wandering around, looking for the latest gossip.
I jumped into bed and tried to smooth my braid. Hopeless. I snapped my fingers, trying to summon magic to help. Nothing happened. My hair remained a tangled mess. If I was lucky, everyone would assume I had been having bad dreams. Rumors would spread throughout the kingdom that nightmares troubled the sleep of Salaria’s greatest treasure, but everyone would forget about it in a few days. They would have new gossip after my birthday celebration. I closed my eyes, relaxed my body, and waited.
A breeze rustled through my hair when the door opened, but I did not stir. I kept my eyes closed and my breathing slow and even. Scrapes, scuffles and whispers echoed through my room. They always tried to be quiet, but they seldom were. At least thick carpets muffled the footsteps. I listened for sounds out of the ordinary. My birthday was tomorrow. According to tradition, my fairy godmother should come for a visit. Had the Fairy Divinia come early? Did a fairy’s footsteps sound any different?
A string quartet began to play my aria from our latest opera production. I waited. As the violins hit their highest note, I turned my head and opened my eyes.
No fairy. Just the usual crowd. I smiled at them to hide my disappointment.
Divinia would come tomorrow. The Colonial Delegation would have a safe journey.
Everything would be fine.
Lady Alma, my personal designer, opened the curtains with a snap of her fingers. Light streamed down on me. My tangled hair reflected dark colors on the walls. Lady Alma’s hair also did a fair bit of reflecting; she wore a pink wig covered in diamonds that towered high above her head. The pink contrasted nicely with her warm Castanian complexion. I once overheard a Duchess complain that Lady Alma had the skin of a sailor as if she spent all her time working in the sun. Lady Alma refused to let her naturally tan skin stop her from making bold fashion choices.
“Night prism eyes reflect colors unknown,” Mother said, quoting the spell Divinia spoke over me on the day of my birth.
Because of that spell, I am my nation’s greatest treasure. Those words changed my life. They also rhymed. Mother embraced poetry with a passion after the blessing, and I have been surrounded by poets ever since.
I smiled at Mother and nodded to the group of courtiers and artists standing in the back of the room. Sir Quill, Minister of Poetry and unmistakable in his hat that doubled as an inkwell, stepped forward and spoke.
Roses are red, violets are blue
Salara’s eyes reflect indescribable hues.
Violets are blue, and roses are red.
Everyone here agrees with what I said.
Violets and roses. Red, purple, and blue.
Colors mean more when reflected by you.
He stepped back into the crowd. Lady Alma came forward, shorter than everyone in the room and as wide as she was tall. Her four chins jiggled as she walked.
Two courtiers pulled back my velvet blankets and satin sheets, and I stepped onto the carpet. Lady Alma raised an eyebrow at my wrinkled nightgown and tangled hair. I ignored her questioning gaze and walked to the center of the room. Light from every window blinded me as I stepped into the sunny spotlight. My hair reflected even more colors onto the wall, a dark rainbow of blue, purple, and green that drowned out the pink light from the wig.
Lady Alma snapped her fingers. Silver sparkles swirled around me until I could see outlines of the crowd, but no details. My nightgown disappeared. A red breakfast gown with a high collar and frilly sleeves replaced it. I gained two inches in height as shoes materialized under my feet. Jewelry appeared on my wrists, neck, and ears. My hair rippled in a breeze until the tangles from the sea wind became gentle waves hanging down my back.
The sparkles dissolved, and the courtiers gasped and applauded. Sir Quill pulled the feather from his cap, dipped it in the inkwell balanced on top of his head, and wrote. I followed Mother out of the room. Everyone bowed as I passed. Lady Alma walked directly behind me, and the courtiers trailed behind her in order of importance. The string quartet’s music faded as we walked down the hall, and a trio of flutes replaced it when we entered the breakfast room.
Father stood in the doorway. Mother took his right arm, and I took his left. Courtiers pulled out chairs for us at the breakfast table. We sat next to each other, facing a wall of windows with a view of the sea.
“I trust you had productive meetings this morning, Nicholas?” Mother said.
Father nodded and took a bite of oatmeal.
“Because you missed waking our daughter. Again. On the eve of her birthday.”
The low murmur of a crowd entering the room obscured his mumbled reply. Mother glared at them, and everyone fell silent. They stood behind a velvet ribbon held by guards and watched us eat.
“Is there any news from the Colonial Delegation?” I asked.
Perhaps they were delayed by bad weather and sent a message?
Father shook his head.
“I insist you sanction them if they do not arrive in time for our treasure’s birthday celebration,” Mother said.
“It isn’t their fault they’ve been delayed by the Dragon!” I said.
“Piracy is hardly suitable breakfast conversation, Salara,” she hissed.
Father ate his oatmeal and read a scroll of parchment.
A courtier escorted the crowd out of the room. A new group replaced them. I pulled a rose out of a vase and twirled it between my fingers. The Dragon was a human pirate, but I had overheard enough conversations to know he was causing far more trouble than most. He sank several official Salarian trade vessels last month, in spite of a naval escort. They called him the Dragon because he set the ships on fire before sending them to the bottom of the ocean. If he attacked the Colonial Delegation, I could only imagine the trouble it would cause.
I couldn’t do more than imagine it because I was never allowed into council meetings.
“So your meetings were productive this morning, Father?” I asked. “Did you work on the new treaty?”
“The treaty is finished,” Father said.
“Unless the Delegation is late for Salara’s birthday celebration. And then you will sanction them,” Mother said.
Another crowd entered. Their whispers created a quiet buzz.
“What does sanctioning them mean?”
I leaned forward, trying to look at the parchment in Father’s hands.
“We are not sanctioning anyone, Ingrid,” Father said.
“Unless they are late,” Mother said.
“The Dragon stole another shipment of salt. Castana is threatening to take action against us if a shipment does not reach them by the end of the month. The guest list for a birthday party is the least of our concerns.”
I sat up straight, trying to look grown up.
“What action would Castana take?”
“Just raise taxes or something,” Mother said.
She dismissed Father with a wave of her hand and turned to me.
“Do you have your lines for the opera memorized?”
“Yes, but what about the sanctions? What about Castana?”
“That really doesn’t concern you.”
“I’m heir to the throne. I need to-”
“Get ready for your portrait sitting,” Mother said.
She stood. I looked at Father. He shrugged and turned back to his oatmeal.
A. G. Marshall
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