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Chapter One

Once, in the kingdom of Andarell, there lived the most beautiful woman in the entire world. Her golden hair hung to her ankles and even the sun contended for brilliance, the stars for beauty. Her eyes were the color of a spring sky and her cheeks bloomed with roses. She was, in fact, the Queen, and her name was Alexandra. Her husband, King Teagan, was a tall man with hair as black as a raven's feathers, a closely trimmed beard, and a mustache. Altogether, he was quite handsome and they loved each other dearly.

In time, as is the way of things, they had a daughter, and that is where our story begins.

"This doesn't look good," the nurse whispered to her assistant. "The Queen had a hard labor."

The nurse, a small woman in her mid-fifties, stood next to the bed in which Queen Alexandra lay dying. In her arms, she held the swaddled form of the newborn princess, who was breathing deeply in her sleep. The room was well furnished, if dark, since very little light penetrated through the small window. The castle was built for defense, not luxury. King Teagan clung to his wife's hand, worry and concern etched into the wrinkles around his brown eyes. He sat there, on the edge of the bed, uncertainly balanced, as if on the edge of a knife where the only thing that kept him from falling was Alexandra.

The Queen lay sweating on the bed, too exhausted to move even a finger. She knew she was dying and she wanted to see her daughter. Alexandra mustered up as much energy as she could, then opened her mouth to speak, but only a hoarse moan escaped her parched and chapped lips. She tried again, but to no avail. One of the servants rushed forward to give her some water, spilling some of it on her arm in his haste. He was quickly slapped by one of the other servants. There were three. Alexandra would have stopped it; she didn't mind the spill, if she hadn't been in her current position. The water helped, and it gave her a little more energy to speak.

"Nurse," Queen Alexandra croaked. In response to her call, the nurse shuffled forward and laid the baby in the queen's arms. Alexandra looked down at her daughter.

"Hello, little one," she whispered and managed a tiny smile of tender love. "Cassandra. That's you're name, dear." Her face fell again. She was running out of time.

"Teagan, I don't have long. I know you'll marry again, but promise me! Promise me that when you do, she'll have golden hair like mine and be just as beautiful. She has to be kind. Promise me!" She squeezed his hand. For a moment, Teagan gazed into Alexandra's eyes, then squeezed back.

"I promise," he said, his voice filling with emotion. A tear trickled down his cheek. Alexandra slumped back onto the pillow, closed her eyes, and let the gray fog of death envelope her. And then, with a tiny smile, she breathed her last.

King Teagan didn't come out of his room for a day and night, not eating, nor sleeping. When he did come out, for the funeral, there was a tremble in his touch and dark circles under his eyes. The funeral was grand, with white roses everywhere and a flutist that walked before the cart that held Queen Alexandra's body. The song he played was haunting and beautiful, like wind in a canyon. It made all of the attendants, dressed in the mourning white as they were, feel like ghosts, like hollow shells of life.

King Teagan never left his room for a year after that funeral. He had is meals delivered to him, and in his misery, he forgot his daughter. Tales began to spread that he had gone mad, so Princess Cassandra was mainly left alone, except for her nurse, the wet nurse, and her aunt. The aunt's name was Evela and was her father's younger sister.

Teagan was almost forgotten, for a time, and his younger brother ruled as Steward in his stead. The court councilors often tried to get Teagan to come out, since he was the true king. Teagan didn't come out. He stayed in his room for thirteen years. During that time, Evela raised Cassandra. She taught her to embroider and dance, of course, but she also taught her diplomacy, how to cook, much to the head cooks disapproval, and to defend yourself with knives, among other things.

"You never know when this stuff will come in handy," she said to Cassandra one morning, when she had complained about getting up early. "You just have to get used to it. Just because you're a princess doesn't mean that you have to be frail and stupid."

Evela was also tall, like her brother, but she has a slim, willowy frame and hair that she kept braided down to the middle of her back. It was a sort of dirty blond color. Her face was pretty, for the most part, and she dressed simply.

One day, Evela decided that it was time for Teagan to come out. After thirteen years, he has to face the light again. He can't wallow in grief forever, she thought as she strode down the polished marble floors. Half-melted candles burned in candelabras, casting a molten glow over the bricks. Small rays of light came in from the thin archer's windows. They were the only kind in the entire castle, which cave it a cave like feel, even with the tapestries. They mainly depicted tournaments or boar hunts, but a few were of other nobility, or the country side.

As she reached Teagan's door, Evela wondered what she'd find after thirteen years of almost no light, no exercise, and no cleaning. She sucked in a breath, held her lantern aloft, and put her hand on the door knob. It was locked, but she'd expected that. She dug around for her keys, stuck one in, and pushed on the heavy oak door.

As the door creaked open, Evela caught sight of a bed and floor covered with trash, rats scurrying about in search of bread crumbs and to escape the light. Teagan was curled in a fetal position on the bed, his hands covering his face. His hair and beard were long and matted and streaked with gray. His hands were as white as a sheet, with nails that were torn and ragged. He was filthy and the white funeral clothes that he wore were little more than rags.

Evela walked closer, scratching out a path in the filth as she walked. The room smelled horrible. In the dim light, she could make out the open door to the garderobe. She looked sadly down at her brother and pulled a flint out from the purse on her belt. Then, she walked over to one of the candelabras. Even in thirteen years, the candles hadn't been eaten by the rats. The candelabras were designed that way, with little or no decoration that would make for a foothold. She lit the candles and Teagan whimpered.

"It's time you came out, Teagan. You can't live in here forever."

Teagan moaned and croaked out a husky, whispered, "No."

"Don't make me force you. You know I will, brother."

"We're not siblings, and you know it."

That stung, but mostly because it was the truth. Evela bit her lip and looked at Teagan.

"I'm still responsible for you."

"What do you know?" Teagan croaked loudly, sitting up on the bed to reveal dark, pitted eyes. His cheeks were gaunt and he looked more like a skeleton than a man. "You've never loved and lost. You're not even human, you curst faerie! You've always offered me advice, even when I was a child! Floating wherever you fancy for hundreds of years must be real fun, but you don't know anything! You don't! You stu…"

His tirade was cut short by Evela's slap to his face. She then took of her cloak to reveal two slits in the back of her dress. Suddenly, feathers started sprouting and wings burst from her back. They were large, the kind of a red-tailed hawk. It was the appearance of the wings, more than the slap, which silenced Teagan. He sat like a lump in a silent pout.

Evela's voice was cold, "You don't know what you're talking about, old man." And with that, she picked up his light frame and strode out into the hall.