The Princess and the Pea
Air rushed into Lina’s lungs. Her eyes snapped open, but she saw only darkness. She pried her arms away from her sides and rubbed an itch on her nose. Something gritty covered her face. Dirt? She brushed it away.
“Luca? Luca, are you there?”
Her voice echoed through the darkness. Lina inhaled again and coughed on the dust. The sound echoed through the cavern.
No one answered. The echo faded into a silence like the grave.
Lina pushed herself up on her elbows. Her body was stiff, but she managed to swing her legs around to a seated position. She rubbed the diamond in her ring.
“Light,” she said. “Illuminate.”
A faint glow filled the room. Lina shut her eyes. After the darkness, even the pale light from the diamond overwhelmed her senses.
The light faded to a softer glow. Lina squinted at her surroundings. She had been in the dark too long to see much. She needed time to adjust. When her eyes recovered enough to open them fully, Lina raised her hand so the light from the diamond filled the room.
She was in a small cave. A small, dirty cave. Except for the grime, everything was just as she had ordered it. Just as she and Luca had set it up. Dust coated everything. The tables covered with charms to support her sleep. The scrolls explaining her situation in case a stranger found her. The enchanted mirror.
Lina ran her hand along her stone bed. She traced the swirling vein of silver that ran down the center. Her fingertips tingled with magic.
The seal held.
She stood and walked to a table across the room. Her stiff legs protested, but Lina was too thirsty to care. She had told Luca to keep a pitcher filled with water for her.
The pitcher was empty.
“Just like the donkey to forget something like that,” she muttered.
Lina swallowed a few times, trying to relieve her dry throat. The dust that covered the cave had not spared her. She wiped a layer of grime off the enchanted mirror and stared at her reflection.
Her chestnut hair hung down her back in a thick tangled mess. She remembered braiding it before falling under the enchantment. Her bright green eyes twinkled under prominent eyebrows tangled with cobwebs. Lina rubbed them and left a trail of dirt on her face. She licked a finger and wiped her face clean.
Her skin was clear under the dust. No bruises. No sign of a struggle. She looked gray and ghostly in the light of the ring.
Lina smiled sadly to herself. The girl in the mirror smiled back. Lina gathered a bit of shadow magic in her fingertips and touched the glass. She studied her reflection for any sign of change.
Nothing. The enchantment had faded. Lina pushed more shadow magic into the glass, but she couldn’t bring it back. She and Luca had enchanted it together. She would need his light magic to fix it completely.
Lina wiped her hands on her skirt. They came away even grimier. Dirt saturated the fabric of her gown. Lina remembered picking her favorite dress to wear for the enchantment. A pale purple silk frock. It was ruined now. She’d need a change of clothes before she met with the Council.
And a bath.
Maybe two baths.
There would be guards stationed at the end of the hallway. Lina pushed on the door. It crumbled at her touch. The falling bits of wood filled the air with even more dust. She ripped the end off her sleeve and covered her mouth with it. The fabric tore in her hand like a spider web.
Lina held her hand through the doorway. Light from her ring illuminated an empty tunnel.
Her brother’s name echoed through the tunnel until silence swallowed it.
Lina’s stomach twisted. Luca had promised he would watch her. He might forget to refill a pitcher of water, but even he wouldn’t forget something as important as guarding his twin sister while she slept.
Something had gone very wrong. It must have. Had the goblins attacked after all? Had the enchantment failed?
Lina crept down the hallway. One step at a time. Her feet dragged on the rough stone floor. How much time had she spent asleep in the realm of shadows? Everything was easier there. You could fly as easily as you walked. But transitioning back to the realm of light wasn’t usually this slow.
Lina reached the end of the tunnel and ran her hand over the smooth stone door. It was just as she remembered. Made from the same stone as the mountain and carved to fit without a single gap.
She studied the door until she found the keyhole. Lina pushed the diamond on her ring into it and turned her wrist. The cavern plunged into darkness as the door swallowed her diamond. Her heart pounded. What if the door was broken? What if she was buried alive?
The latch clicked. Lina pulled her ring out and pushed the door forward. It didn’t slide as smoothly as it should have, but at least it didn’t crumble like the wood. Gentle white light filled the tunnel. A crisp breeze rustled Lina’s hair. She peered around the door and saw stars overhead.
Good, it was night. She wasn’t sure she could handle daylight yet. Lina held her ring to her lips.
“Check for danger.”
She held her breath. If the light changed to red, there were creatures of darkness nearby. Goblins or worse.
The light stayed white. Its glow matched the moonlight streaming into the cavern. Lina exhaled in relief.
Her ring’s light faded until it was a normal diamond glittering in the moonlight.
So there was no danger. Luca might be safe after all.
Perhaps the guards were taking a break. Perhaps the danger had passed enough that they didn’t need to watch her every second.
Lina slipped around the rock and into the open air. An evening breeze washed over her. She pushed the rock closed and locked it with her ring. The enchantments on the door should keep the seal safe even when she was gone.
The air smelled just as it should. She closed her eyes and savored the scents. Fresh grass and pine trees. The tang of the ocean. The pale sweetness of snowbells. Summer in Aeonia.
Lina opened her eyes and examined her surroundings. Her heart contracted.
She stood in untamed mountain wilderness. Above her, pine forests reached for the mountaintops. Fields of snowbells stretched below her. Their purple blossoms waved in the moonlight like ocean waves.
This was all wrong. They had buried her in the wrong place. She had watched them carve the marble structures around her cave. Helped them weave magic into the stones. There should be a pavilion to her left. And where was the wolf statue?
Maybe they had moved her. A marble pavilion wasn’t exactly subtle. Maybe danger had forced them to move her. To dig another cavern in the wilderness.
Maybe things had gone badly after all. Had there been a battle? Had the goblins destroyed the statue? Lina studied the landscape. The hillside bore no signs of a skirmish. She sat on a mossy patch among the snowbells and studied the bottom of the mountain.
Lights of a city nestled at the mountain’s base. Yes, that was right. Mias, the capital city of Aeonia, had been visible from the mouth of the cavern. She remembered the view. Moonlight glistened on the ocean waves and white plaster buildings. The view was spectacular. She would know it anywhere. This had been Luca’s favorite picnic spot.
So she was in the right place. What had happened to the marble carvings? She understood removing the pavilion, but the wolf statue had been an important part of the protection charms around her.
Lina stood and studied the space around the door. She looked for any hint of difference. Her heart sank.
She didn’t remember the moss.
Lina rested her hand on the ground. A faint magical aura permeated it. She dissolved it, crawled to the nearest clump of moss and pulled at it. She threw handful after handful away, praying she wouldn’t find anything under it. Please, let it be just earth.
She jammed her finger on something hard. Lina brushed the dirt away, revealing a gleaming rock as white as bone.
Lina clawed the dirt and moss away. Please, no. It couldn’t be.
A worn marble paw took shape as Lina removed its mossy covering. Claws stretched towards her. She swallowed a sob.
She remembered the shape. She had helped make the shape. A fierce guard wolf with sharp claws and green emerald eyes. The claws were dull now. The wolf’s teeth rounded at the edges. Worn smooth by rain and moss and time.
Time. How much time would it take to crumble the edges of a marble statue to dust?
Lina wiped the dirt away from the wolf’s face. What was left of it, anyway.
Something small and round fell into her hand. The wolf’s eye. The round emerald gleamed in the moonlight. Tears filled her eyes and left trails in the dust on her cheeks.
She screamed into the night. Her voice echoed against the mountains and dissolved in the wind. No one answered.
She clutched the emerald in her fist. The world dissolved in a flash of memory.
“Careful with the peas, Lina.”
“They’re emeralds, Luca.”
“Yeah? They look like peas to me. Think we could trick chef into putting them in a stew? I’d love to see the king’s face when he swallowed one.”
“Come on, Lina! The King of Gaveron has been giving us trouble for ages. Let’s return the favor.”
“One last prank before you go to sleep?”
“Luca, this is serious.”
He looked at her with piercing green eyes that matched her own.
“I know. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“You’re not afraid?”
“I’m a shadow warrior. I’ve faced worse. Besides you’ll watch over me.”
He grinned at her.
“Of course I will.”
Lina looked back at the wolf’s face. How long would it take to wear marble smooth like that? Decades? Centuries?
Longer than he could live, a small voice in her head whispered. Much longer than Luca could survive.
Lina clutched the pea emerald to her heart and sobbed. She had known this was a possibility. That was the reality of the enchanted sleep. She would wake sometime, but who could say when? Who could say what would be left for her?
Luca had been so confident though. So sure he could find a way to wake her once they had sealed the danger away. They had been a team. Inseparable.
Lina swallowed her tears. Everyone was gone. Not just Luca. Everyone she had fought to protect. Even if they had survived the war, they were gone now.
The lights of Mias twinkled below her. Lina wiped her eyes. Someone had survived. Goblins would not fill a city with light. She leaned on the wolf statue and stood. Her heart pounded.
Lina tore a hole in her sleeve and tucked the pea inside the hem. She clutched the fabric in her fist and walked down the mountain. One step at a time in the moonlight. She would do as she always had. Go forward. Fight to protect her country.
Pale purple snowbells, the same color her dress had once been, swayed around her.
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A. G. Marshall
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