"Are you really a fairy?"
The girl and the boy sat together on the bare wooden floor, gazing adoringly at the plump fairy sitting in front of them.
"Of course, dear. I'm your fairy godmother. I'll be looking after you and your brother, always." Mandy patted the girl's head, then smiled knowingly at the woman next to her. "Little Ella's looking more and more like you by the day, wouldn't you say so, Lady?"
Eleanor too grinned at her little daughter. "She's an Eleanor, it's in her blood. She's just like me, when I was little."
"What about me?" Asked Lance, who was feeling left out of the conversation, "am I not like mother as well?"
Eleanor lowered herself next to her son, hugging him towards her. "You have the true Eleanor spirit, son. I know you will do great things when you grow up. And I wouldn't expect any less from you."
Lance looked up at his mother, taking in her sweet face permanently lined with worry and sorrow, her long brown hair he loved to bury his face in, and her bright green eyes that though seemed tired, were alive with life. He loved his mother more than anyone in this world, more than his best friend, Benard, more than Mandy, more than his sister.
The 12-year-old boy had big dreams, fuelled by his mother and Mandy's encouragement, and his own wish to escape the poverty he was born into. He wanted to be a poet and a scribe, and embed his stories and thoughts into history; he wanted to be a soldier, and battle for the country he loved so dearly; he wanted to be a chancellor, and make things better for people so like himself; but most of all, he wanted to bring down the king that brought his mother so many tears and hardships, the king that had imprisoned his family in this endless circle of destitution.
He would do it, one day. He was sure of it. And when the time came, he would bring joy onto his mother's face.
Three days. For three days the duo had wandered in the forest, sometimes talking, commenting on their surroundings, discussing where to stay the night, sharing their plans and hopes for the future. But for the most part, they walked on in silence. Both were comfortable with the lack of conversation, though, for each had much to think about.
Isabel used the time to plot her revenge, but she did not know who the murder was, nor did she have any idea as to where to seek him out. She could only channel her grief and hatred into vague plans that led into nothingness, thoughts would fly across her mind, each more wild than the next, until she finally gave up and decided to let everything play itself out. And all the while, she mourned her loss.
Rhys too wondered who murdered the king, but he was more aware of where he was, and who he was with. Much time was spent frequently shooting glances at his companion, taking in her soft, doe-like gray eyes, her mouth set in a firm line, her blank expression. Isabel had always been one to guard her feelings carefully, and took special care in controlling emotional responses. It frustrated Rhys, and yet he became more infatuated in her, trying so hard to understand the girl underneath her hard, brittle shell. Maybe that was what had drawn him in in the very beginning.
And so they wandered, having only the slightest idea of where they were going, but nonetheless confident that they would reach their destination, where ever it was.
On the fourth day, they passed a small village buried deep in the forest, and bought some supplies with their remaining money.
On the fifth day, the roads turned wide, and the pair, silent.
On the sixth day, the last of the food was gone.
On the seventh day, Isabel kept her eyes open for edible berries, while Rhys just grumbled.
On the eighth day, Rhys disappeared.
Isabel awoke to the brilliant morning light, and the growling of her stomach. Both of them had gone to bed hungry, agreeing to try their hand at hunting the next day. Squinting in the sun, Isabel sat up and looked around the clearing, looking for her companion that was no doubt still asleep.
The blankets were still there, the pack open, the dying embers of last night's fire still flickering weakly. But he wasn't there.
Isabel waited. Perhaps Rhys had left early in an attempt to satisfy his hunger, she thought, it would be just like him to come back with food to taunt her.
But as noon came and went, Isabel started to worry. Unable to sit still, she took her sword and set off into the forest, hoping to find her friend. The dense leaves covered the sky, admitting only the strongest rays of light into the forest. Isabel searched the woody grounds for the tracks of Rhys' heavy boots to no avail, and walked blindly for what seemed like hours.
She found nothing.
Managing to find her way back before the last streaks of light disappeared, she again studied the clearing in the twilight. Everything was as she had left it, but Rhys was gone.
The Queen sat alone in her study, pondering over the King's death. Days had passed since the Phillip died, but no matter how she forced herself, she could not muster enough sadness suitable for a woman who had lost her spouse. Because Phillip was never a husband to her, perhaps not even a friend. They were mere acquaintances who just happened to rule side by side for the last twenty years, and when Sybil thought of their unusually distant relationship, she almost laughed at the irony. How funny it was that Phillip, the man who she barely spoke two words to on a daily basis, would be the first to die for her, for the throne.
How lonely was this path she chose! How lonely she was, left to rule alone after the loss of a loveless marriage, how lonely she was, paying for the consequences of a choice long regretted. And how she wished, for more than once in her life, that she were not Queen.
For she had taken a sharp turn on a path she never should have walked on. She was supposed to inherit the crown. She was supposed to rule Kyrria to the best of her abilities, without any hesitation or fuss. It was set long ago, and no one had intended for the facts to change. She wasn't supposed to be the free spirited girl she once was, she wasn't supposed to expose herself to the love and life beyond the castle. Because she had, and that made making the right choice much harder than it should have been.
And now, she just wished she had taken the selfish choice, the choice that wouldn't have made her life as miserable as it were now.
The thought of all she had lost pulled her back into the murder of her husband, and the well-being of the country she gave her life to. She may not be the best ruler Kyrria had ever seen, but she wasn't stupid, nor was she completely oblivious to the disturbances stirring in the far corners of her country. She knew that this murder would be the first of many planned by the rumored rebellion, though she did not plan to let on that she knew. Only the closest advisors could be trusted with the information, but while the rebellion continues to cause trouble under her nose, she would take action. Spies had been dispatched, and her armies had been training since the day Phillip died. She knew nothing of the rebels, only that they could not be underestimated. She had learned her lesson, and did not intend to make the same mistakes again.
For years ago, Kyrria had indeed caught a leader of the rebellion, when the rebels were still weak and disorganised. Phillip's men arrested him while she was in Ayortha, and she planned to journey home as soon as she heard the news, only to find upon arrival that somehow, the man escaped. "He simply disappeared", the guards said, and no one could account for the breakout. Since then, the rebellion had only grown stronger, terrorising the cities on the outskirts of Kyrria, their ultimate destination undoubtedly Frell. The sudden attack in Pakka only meant that they were nearer, that they were coming. And Sybil wasn't sure she could stop them when they came.
All she could do was to be prepared.
"Sir, she knows the rebellion is behind this. Our contact came to me today and said that the Queen has taken no interest in finding the murderer but instead is investing much gold in training her armies."
"Not to worry, Lionel", Barnan purred lazily on top his chair, "she's scared of us, and she should be. She has more men, but she knows not who nor where we are, and the mystery terrifies her."
"Very well. I think we are ready for our next target then."
"Ah, yes, the High Chancellor. Finish him and see to it that his successor is one of us. We need more people on the inside, if this is to work."
"Of course, sir. Our contact is quite confident that he has much power over the court's affairs."
"Everything is going quite well, don't you think Lionel? Perhaps this royal family of the damned shall truly be brought to the justice they deserved a century ago."
Isabel lingered in the clearing for two more days.
She didn't, and couldn't believe that Rhys had left her, like so many others had. She didn't, and couldn't believe that she was all alone in this world again, or perhaps she always had been? She didn't know. She didn't want to know.
For two days, she lay under the sky that changed so slowly, sometimes sprawled in the grass, eyes closed, waiting for a familiar call that would pull her out of her worries, a call that she herself could mimic to perfection. But the sound never came. Other times, and more and more often as time passed, she huddled into a ball, curled her body within itself, saving her rare sorrow and feelings of helplessness to herself, her back against the world.
She tried her hardest to put on a strong and uncaring facade, she really did. She didn't know if the show was for the occasional squirrel, or simply to comfort herself, but while she gathered any berries that seemed edible, while she drew her sword upon any stray rabbit, while she sat before the fire, waiting for what she knew, deep inside, would never come, there was a strange quivering in her stomach, a funny feeling of nervousness, the feeling of knowing not what to do when she would finally be forced to face the fact that she would carry on alone.
And two days later, she acknowledged the feeling, she accepted that she would have to carry on by herself.
So when the sun rose, the clearing was empty. There wasn't a life in the world she could rely on anymore.
So Isabel continued her journey alone.
Last chapter before school starts! Review so I know somebody's reading...