Just as the doctor had promised, Niah was up and about within a week. Being shown around the castle was an experience for the little dark elf. She had never seen a castle, let alone a city made of stone. It kind of reminded her of the tales of Idylla, the Kollossae home, with its buildings, halls and courtyards all made of stone. But her favourite part of the palace was the gardens, oblivious of the confused king and cleric as she revealed in plants and flowers.
"I see you love the garden," a little obvious for the King to ask, but the hope of an answer was close behind,
"I love gardens!" Niah beamed, running over to another bush she didn't recognised, smelling the flowers blooming amongst the greenery, "It's like back home," another plant caught her attention but she frowned when the flower had no scent,
"Our tales speak of a kingdom made of plants, is that your home?" Jaga asked. Claudus recalled such a tale; speaking of a kingdom as if grown from the trees themselves. Looking to the little elf, she smiled,
"It's called the Gardens of Esa,the Summer Court used to live there," she replied, no notion of secrecy in her tone. The pair believed she was comfortable speaking of such a place.
"What is the Summer Court?" Jaga asked, looking down at Niah and smiling as she tried to get the flower release a scent,
"The Fae. Mama said that's where they used to live…but there's not a lot of them left," Niah explained, looking back to the Cleric and King, "Mama said they don't like change, and they disappeared,"
"Disappeared?" Claudus found it strange that a being would simply disappear,
"Uhuh," Niah nodded, "Mama said they returned to nature, that's where they're born," a small smile grew on her face as she managed to coerse a smell from the flower, beaming at the sweet scent, "There are still some Fae left it think but not many," Leaving the rather somber subject, the King decided it was time for Niah to see where she would be staying. Jaga bowed and took Niah to the Cleric's hall. Upon entering through a back entrance, many of the clerics gasped and awed at the little child. Niah didn't think she was that special, feeling a little intimidated as she hid behind Jaga's legs,
"My clerics, we have been tasked by our King, to watch of this Child of the Ancients," Jaga announced, so all would here, "Her name is Niah, and she will be under my tutelage. Some of you will be asked to teach her, train her," Niah stopped listening as he rambled off, looking out to all the similar, yet different, cats that were scattered around the room. All of them had golden fur, with shades of brown with spots. All of them were adults or older, there was no one her age. Brought back to Jaga, he took her hand and showed her to her new room. It wasn't as large as the healer's room but it was comfy. It had a small cot with soft blankets, a dresser, a desk and a splendid view of the gardens. Beaming, Niah ran into the room to find her tome, happy to have it back. "This will be your room ,you may do as you wish but tomorrow we will start your training,"
"Training?" Niah asked, confused,
"You have a talent and skill for magic," Jaga smiled, kneeling before her, "Skill as strong as yours needs to be trained, if you wish it of course,"
"Um…" Niah turned away, yes she knew she had magic but her papa was to train her, not Jaga. But if he could then it would be better than having her powers lash out on fear or anger. "Okay," Jaga smiled, picking up her hesitation. He patted her head before turning to leave her alone. Niah sat on the bed, finding nothing to do. Jumping off she skittered to the window, looking down at the garden. The soft wacks and clangs of wood caught her attention, leaning further she spotted the princes, Lion-O and Tygra, training with the 2 burly cats from before. Their wooden swords swung and blocked as the generals gave direction.
Grune, as he watched Tygra take his direction to overpower his brother, he felt the nagging feeling of being watched. Glancing away from the fight, he saw the little elf from before, up in a high window watching them train. Panthro noticed his friend's distracted gaze and followed, looking up and seeing Niah looking down. Their sudden interest was not lost on the girl as she jumped and disappeared back into the window,
"Hard to believe she's real," Panthro muttered, looking to Grune,
"She's gonna be a pretty one, no doubt of that," Grune held his gaze on the window before begrudgingly returning to the princes. Panthro could see the strange look in the Sabre's eyes, something unsettling but pushed the feeling aside as they focused on the boys.
Night soon came as the afternoon sun dropped below the horizon. Jaga entered Niah's room again, having been ordered to bring her to dinner, to his surprise he found the little elf curled into herself, her drying tears the only signs of her sorrow as she had cried herself to sleep. Not having the heart to wake her, Jaga simply moved her tome to the desk and took a blanket from the end of the bed. Draping it over her, he left her to sleep. Returning to the dinning chambers, Claudus seemed surprised to find Jaga alone,
"Where is Niah?" he asked, catching the attention of his sons,
"I'm afraid the excitement of the day has worn her out," Jaga replied, but his eyes spoke the truth, a truth only Claudus caught onto,
"Perhaps we'll see her at breakfast then," leaving it at that, the royal family ate.
Time had gone by faster than Niah would've liked. Only 5 when she was found by the Cats, 7 years have gone by now and she was on the cusp of her teenage years. Now, her father would've inducted her as a Neophyte, but with Jaga's early tutelage she would perhaps be an Adept. Sitting in her room, she smiled at her 'redecoration'. Since she finally mastered a growth spell, she used it on the vines that crawled up the tower from the garden; she welcomed the nature into her room as she weaved her magic through the vines. Now they created intricate designs on the walls and ceiling, blooming with flowers and greenery. She tended to them and, through some luck; she managed to grow reagents similar to those found back home. She even managed to sew and make clothing similar to the dresses her mother used to wear and the robes her father wore.
Pulled from her thoughts was a knock at the door. Closing her tome, she opened the door to find Jaga.
"Good morning Jaga," she smiled,
"Good morning Niah, are you ready for today's lesson?" he asked, watching her nod as they left the room. They made their way to the main sanctuary of the Clerics chambers, there Jaga and Niah would train a majority of the morning. Jaga was proud of his apprentice's progress; her magic was getting stronger and her spells more powerful. Her mastery of Novice spells bolstered her understanding of more advanced spells. Now, she was trying her hand at more illusionary and altering spells; such as becoming invisible or turning wood to stone. One particular spell was giving her issue. It was an altering spell meant make her lighter than air, allow her to fly but he couldn't seem to make a foot off the ground, only managing to hover. "You must focus Niah," Jaga chided, seeing she only left an inch off the ground,
"Apologise Jaga, but no matter how much I focus I can't seem to fly," Niah was down cast, the idea of flight wasn't exactly something she would use frequently, and the idea of flying like a bird wasn't something she believed to be enjoyable. Not that she feared heights; it was the falling that scared her more,
"Your doubts are weighing you down. Cast them aside and allow yourself to be free," Jaga reasoned, easy for him to say, he could run at speeds she could only fathom and under his own skill, like many of the other Cheetah Clerics. Making another attempt, she did manage to calm herself, allowing all doubt to wash away and feel the illusion of weightlessness. Opening her eyes, she was shocked to find she was rising to the roof, but looking down she saw how far from the ground was. Her concentration broken, she screamed as her spell was released, letting her fall to the ground. Jaga made no move to help her, forcing her to focus on the spell again. It only achieve catching her a foot off the ground, before she floated to the ground,
"I…I'm sorry Jaga," she apologised again, ashamed she had allowed her focus to break,
"You did better, but you must control your fear. Focus and concentrate. Only they will you spells heed your command," Jaga smiled, helping Niah to her feet, "That is enough training for today. Go and have something to eat," As if sensing her hunger, Niah blushed when her stomach agreed with his wise words. Bowing, Niah scampered off from the Head Cleric to the communal meal hall, where all Clerics come to eat together. The table was already topped with fruits and treats, nuts and prepared meats. There was many a time Niah found herself alone around lunch, many of the other clerics having already eaten or decide to skip. But today was different; Niah was surprised to see another young cheetah sitting at the table, munch on bread and a piece of this kingdom's strange fruit.
"Um…hello," Niah greeted, nervous around the new faces; especially ones her own age. But this cheetah, a girl as she had noticed, seemed friendly enough. She looked up from her meal and sat surprised, a normal response from many how meet Niah for the first time,
"I…I was told there was a Child of the Ancients here, but I didn't believe," the cheetah gasped but Niah took no mind, Jaga did explain that her people were the makings of legend since King Leo's time, 500 years ago.
"Well many a brilliant mind will tell you – to see is to believe," Niah smiled, plucking a round fruit, something called candy fruit, and took a tentative bite. These fruits were extremely sweet, and many times Niah has seen Lion-O or Tygra eating the fruit, they became hyper like an impish boggart. She also grabbed a milder fruit and a slice of bread, "Would you like something to drink?" she asked, watching the female cat nod, still disbelieving what she was seeing. Smiling, Niah used her magic to bring over 2 cups and a pitcher of water, even going as far as to fill the cups before placing them on the table,
"Wow," the girl beamed, as if forgetting what her guess was, "Is Jaga teaching you magic? I though Children of Ancients were able to use magic naturally,"
"Maybe, but even we need to be formally trained," Niah smiled, offering her hand, "My name's Niah,"
"I'm Cheetara," Niah always found it funny that cats seemed to have names that sound like their genus,
"Are you training to be a Cleric? What's it like?" Niah asked, smiling at her new acquaintance. Cheetara felt more comfortable with the fable sitting across her the more they spoke. Learning Niah had been here long before her training started, and solely because the King wished to keep her away from the public, she couldn't help but see tragedy in that. Niah was basically a bird in a gilded cage, forbidden to leave,
"How…do you like living at the palace?" she asked, watching Niah play around with a small flower on the table, she watched as Niah wove magic into the bloom, causing it to glitter, then with a flick of her hand, the flower changed colours, another flick and it grew larger, one more gesture and the flower returned to normal,
"It's alright I guess. Nothing like home but I partially love the gardens," Niah smiled,
"What is your home like?" Cheetara asked, but Niah drew back. She hadn't told anyone this, not even Jaga,
"I haven't told anyone before," Niah admitted, looking back to Cheetara – she seemed trustworthy and could keep a secret, "Can you keep it a secret…if I tell you?" she asked, seeing the cheetah smile and nod. "Well…My home used to belong to the Fae – the children of Nature, now its home to many different races," turning back to the flower, her magic grew and weaved it's vines and roots to resemble a stunning palace, "The Gardens of Esa, grown from Nature itself, it the only place I've called home…I miss it,"
"I'm sorry," Cheetara placed a hand on Niah's shoulder, showing her support and care, "I can't begin to fathom what it feels like to be so far from home," Niah smiled, touched by her compassion,
"Want to come for a walk in the gardens with me?" Niah asked, feeling closer to the teen,
"My training starts soon, but I'd like to afterwards," Cheetara smiled, Niah understood and held Cheetara to her promise. Parting ways, Niah entered the gardens and visibly relaxed. Gliding through the bare bushes and hedges, she felt like that needed a little…colour. Smiling, a melody followed her feet as she spun and twirled. Her magic flying from her fingers, once it touched a bush or leaf a flower bloomed in its place. Flowers were conjured sparkled and spread like wildfire, decorating the garden and bringing it new life,
"What the?!" came a surprised call, Niah jumped before coming around the bend, finding Lion-O and Tygra – obviously in a training session with Grune and Panthro – with surprised looks on their faces,
"Oh! My apologies Your highnesses!" Niah stuttered, bowing low into a curtsy, "That garden was looking a little…lacking, I admit I might've been a little overzealous,"
"You did this?" Panthro asked, amazed by the sudden appearance of the blooms, Niah nodded and smiled as she demonstrated. A small tree by the general was devoid of her flowers, so was a simple sweep, he gasped as the tree exploded with new blooms,
"You never cease to amaze, Niah," Grune smirked, Niah never felt at ease with the sabretooth general. His smiles always seemed to drip with poison, but she simply smiled and thanked him for the comment. Before he could make another though, Claudus approached them. Lion-O and Tygra could see their father wished to speak business with their teachers, turning to Niah with smiles,
"Come on Niah, lets go," Tygra never gave her the option of a response as he grabbed her hand and guided her away from the adults. Glancing back, she could still see Grune's slimy grin, causing a shiver to run down her spine.
"That girl is certainly something," Panthro smiled, watching the kids run off,
"Yes, Jaga tells me her skills are improving by the day, yet she still feels uneased here," Claudus wasn't a cruel person by nature, he felt sorry for the little Elf but if an alliance could be reached between the cat empire and her kin, they would be a formidable force. "But the matter at hand is priority."
"What do you think your father wished to speak to them about?" Niah asked, sitting with the boys in the garden; Lion-O laid next to her while Tygra climbed a tree,
"Who knows, grown-up stuff," Tygra shrugged, looping his legs around a branch to swing upside down. He watched as Niah untied her hair, combing her hair through it before weaving flowers into her hair. Looking to his brother, he smirked at the dreamy look he was giving Niah. He had suspected Lion-O had a crush on the elf, teasing and annoying him over it was becoming a favoured pastime for the older prince,
"Well, you are becoming of age too Tygra," Niah replied, looking up at the tiger, "Time will come for you to begin discussing grown-up stuff as you eloquently put it," she spared a giggle as his smile turned to a frown,
"Then I'll have to use what time I have left to live it up," Tygra smirked again, jumping from the tree, "Wanna go to the old ruins?"
"But Tygra, I can't leave the palace, you know that," Niah replied, but Lion-O joined his brother,
"Come on Niah, you said so yourself you would love to see what's outside the palace. And we'd be with you the whole time," Lion-O looked so hopeful, begging for an answer but Niah wished she had a better one to give,
"I…I can't, I'm sorry," standing, she quickly ran from the princes before they could stop her. Tears streaked her face, fearing she had upset them. She didn't realise she had ran past Grune and Panthro, both of them seeing her tears as she disappeared into the Clerics' chambers.
Niah didn't wait for anyone to catch her. She ran straight to her room and sobbed into her pillow. She felt horrid, she wanted to go with Tygra and Lion-O, she really did, but she promised their father she would remain in the palace – for her safety was his reasoning – but it still didn't make her feel any better. What surprised her was a knock on her door, sniffing and wiping her eyes clear of tears, she sat up on the bed,
"C-Come in," she whimpered. The door creaked open and, to her again surprise, Grune stepped through, a cleric ran off behind him – no doubt a guide – as he stepped into her room, "General Grune," she squealed, all the more relieved to have wiped her tears, "Is something wrong?" but Grune didn't answer as he came to sit on her bed, next to her. Slightly unnerved by his stoic aura, he soon pulled her into his lap,
"I saw you crying, and thought to check on you," he replied, a softer smile crossing his stern cheeks. No one had ever done that before, himself included, but it wasn't rejected, "See, Panthro and I have been given a special mission from the King, we leave tomorrow and I'd hate to leave while you're upset,"
"Thank you for your concern, General Grune, sir," she whimpered, "But it nothing to be worried over,"
"Then it shouldn't be a problem to tell me then," he was a crafty one,
"Prince Tygra and Prince Lion-O wanted to talk me to some old ruins, but I refused because going would be disobey King Claudus," she explained, not looking up at the scowling General. He was aware of the King's decree of keeping her locked away, protection his good tooth, Claudus just wanted to keep her close, keep her for himself, "They really wanted me to go but it just didn't feel right to disobey the King, he's done so much for me even though he didn't need to,"
"That doesn't mean you have to follow everything he says," Grune replied, tilting her coloured chin up to look him in the eyes, "I say do as you wish, what you can't earn, you can take," he cooed, hoping to put her little heart at ease but seeing the cleric return with Jaga, Grune growled but managed the time to place Niah back on the bed. Leaning down he placed a kiss on her forehead; while she didn't notice he used his claw to nick some strands of her hair, "Be good now," and with that he left, not saying a word to Jaga or his cleric,
"Niah, are you alright?" Jaga had noticed Grune's interest in the young child and the way he had left her was cause for concern,
"Yes, I'm fine," she nodded, "Just…why does General Grune believe if you cannot earn something, you can take it? I don't understand, why would anyone do that?" her tears sprung a new as the Head Cleric sat next to her, "I miss home,"
"Rest now child, everything shall work out in the end," Jaga indeed fretted her future but he hoped salvation will come, and soon.
AN: I'm not sure if people will notice the differences but while I read through these chapters again I noticed I failed to catch certain mistakes and errors, so some of the chapters I've posted I'm redoing and will try to be more vigilant in my proof-reading before I post again. My bad XC