Chapter 3

Sloane and I departed to the great hall and I nursed my scrapped knees all the way back to my chambers. My entire being was soaked through to the bone and my poor dress was stained with blood and muck. I sighed as I changed out of my cold clothes into warm ones and plaited my hair, all the while contemplating that strange encounter by the lake. Finally presentable, I wandered to the library in search of some good reading. I plucked a favorite from the shelves and sat in a giant chair by the hearth fire. I passed the day away in quiet solitude and was quite thankful when the stars shown through the windows in the ceiling above. I found peace in the down of my pillow and rested deeply from all my exhaustion.

I awoke, suddenly startled, though at first glance all seemed peaceful. A light breeze drifted through the balcony and dust motes fluttered through the sun's soft beams as it shone onto the floor. I sat completely still trying to calm my trembling heart. I guessed it was about midmorning and from the sound of things the household was up and running. But that was not what had startled me awake. A small plume of smoke was visible beyond my balcony and I grabbed a shawl to investigate.

Down below stood Holden, face red with effort but a smile of triumph danced across his face. Behind him stood Sloane, eyebrows knit in frustration. Watching the two of them I noticed the source of my abrupt awakening. Holden had ignited a small fire in the courtyard using his favorite gift. Showoff, I thought, and leaned against the warming stone to watch them.

Holden put on quite a show and in the end was horribly exhausted. Sweat stained his shirt and he collapsed next to Sloane at the base of an old tree. "Tomorrow I will teach you to ride and fence. Can you handle a sword?" Holden asked lightly. It was good to see them acting as friends so soon. Sloane ignored him, drawing symbols in the sand, obviously distracted. I gave them a whistle and waved down at them smiling. "Holden next time you feel like setting something aflame don't do it outside my chambers!" I chastised. Holden shook his head and laughed, the golden hair sticking to his forehead.

I wandered off to get dressed, donning a pair of dress slacks and a dark blue blouse. I plaited my hair and splashed cool water on my face. I felt rejuvenated and eager to learn. I meandered down the stairway, running my fingers along the crevices of stone as I had always done, memorizing their patterns. Brian greeted me quietly, looking up from his notes. "Good afternoon Lady Lidda." I nodded politely and took my place across from him, resuming my studies from before. Brian answered any questions I had when it came to mathematics or astronomy or whatever I was struggling with. When I was younger he had taught me simpler things, like how to read and write and how to place useful little tricks on my brother. I was quite fond of him and enjoyed his quiet, studious company.

"Brian?" I had startled him out of his trance, so engrossed was he in his reading. "Yes my lady?" he put a finger down on the page, marking his place. "What can you tell me about telepathy?" Brian leaned back in his chair, eying me quizzically. "Not very much I'm sorry to say. That knowledge has been long lost." He frowned. "Why does my lady wish to know?"

"Curiosity, Brian. I've been having a bit of interference lately." I looked down and pretended to be engrossed in my studies once more. "Long ago," he started, "it was possible for such communication to occur… although the last time anyone can recall it being used was when…"He trailed off uncertain. "Such things aren't natural milady." Brian scowled and returned to his reading. I dared not question him further so I stood to leave. "Be careful milady." He cautioned. I nodded and strode out of the room.

I received a summons from father that afternoon and headed to his study. He sat by the fire, swirling a glass of some brownish liquor. He was dressed in fine clothing the color of emeralds and sapphires. When he heard me come in he smiled. "Daughter." The affection in his voice was well marked and I could not help but grin back. "Good afternoon father." I clasped his hand and sat beside him relaxing in his company. We sat in silence as the minutes dragged on. "Lidda, I have an announcement to make. You know you are of the age when most young women take a husband…" He trailed off, gauging my reaction; Suddenly I was not so calm. "I will give you two weeks time to prepare and then I will tell our people, and send out the invitations." His face grew dark and his eyes glistened in the firelight. "Father, invitations for what?" I knew the answer before he spoke it. "Your engagement ball."

How long had I known this day was coming and yet still I was so ill prepared? I stood slowly, bracing myself. "If that is your wish father, I cannot go against it." I stumbled out of the room and fled. Even the forest was unforgiving and I clutched at the bark of a tree and let my sorrows wash over me.

"Lidda, are you crying again?" A warm hand fell onto my shoulder, the gesture uncertain. "Go away." I hissed, unhappy I had been discovered. "I won't just leave you here by yourself when you're so miserable." Sloane's voice was gentle. "I'd be a poor gentleman if I just walked away." I stilled my racing heart, willed my breath to slow. Be calm, I thought to myself. "It's gonna be ok."

"Talk to me Sloane, distract me please."

He was quiet. "Talk about what?"

"Anything! Please!" I pleaded. He withdrew his hand and sat beside me, all his thoughts uncertain. "I think I could get the hang of this magic stuff." This shocked me out of my wallowing. "What?"

"Holden was teaching me earlier. We've been up since dawn. He's going to try." Sloane laughed a bit, purely out of self doubt. "That's…interesting. What do you want to learn?" He paused for a moment and without thinking about it said the most absurd thing. "I want to learn how to make women stop crying." He eyed my jokingly and despite myself I let out a small laugh. "I don't think that would qualify as magic Sloane. However, it is a gift you seem to possess."

He nodded and reached a hand up to my face, whipping the tears off my cheek. His lack of nervousness warmed me. Most men wouldn't dare touch me without my permission. His casual touch made my heart beat faster. "What has you so worried?" Sloane's hand dropped back to his side and he looked back at me curiously. "A ball." I murmured. Sloane's skeptical look caught me off guard and made me laugh again. "I thought girls loved that stuff?"

"Normal girls do, I suppose. Though not if they have an obligation to fulfill." I whispered. I was grateful he did not pry as to just what my obligation entailed.

"You're not normal at all…" The thought was tender and had me blushing horribly.

Just who was Sloane anyways? His mystery both intrigued and frightened me. "Teach me how to make fire?" He asked his voice eager. I scooted closer and grabbed his hands in mine glad for the change of subject. "First," I said, "You have to want it with every part of your being. Will it into being." Sloane's eyebrows knit together, concentrating. "Want it with every part of my being." He thought.

Father stood, drawing the attention of the house. It had been two weeks and still I was not ready for him to make the announcement. Come spring, an engagement ball was to be held in my honor. It was time, he said, to create an alliance that would bring to us great fortune and happiness and secure our holdings in the forest. A wave of fear rose in me anew and I blushed as the applause flooded up to the ceiling and echoed back. I was reluctant to eat, and settled for pushing my food around my plate. The roast venison and potatoes held no interest to me anymore. Holden watched me, looking grim. "I'm sorry Lidda. I had forgotten all about it." I assured him it was ok. It was the duty of the females in my line to choose a match that was advantageous in many ways. Love rarely entered into it. I shuddered at the thought of sharing my bed and lands with a stranger and weaving those magics that were meant to create life. I lost myself in the thoughts, dreadful as they were.

"Engagement?" Sloane's thoughts drifted towards me from the tables though I did not see him. I had gotten so used to hearing him beside me that being unable to see him was rather unnerving. It seemed that the connection grew over time, as did his abilities to craft magic.

The grand hall settled down as the servants began to eat quietly and gossip amongst themselves. Most seemed cheerful. They had not had a reason to create such a feast in many years, not since Holden and I were born. Mother laid a comforting hand on mine and whispered, "It is not so bad daughter. You will find a man who is all this court needs and he will grow to love you, just as you will grow to love him. It will take time." I shivered again.

"She is a princess…" Sloane sighed somewhere off in the distance. I clenched a fist in my lap, fighting the urge to make a scene.

I excused myself early and make my way upstairs. Sloane had taken to stowing away in one of the tallest towers. My favorite hiding spot when I had been a child was now his refuge from the daily rustle of court life. It was circular, drafty and mainly used for storage of old furniture. I had made forts here with Holden as we pretended to stave off dragons and evil knights who had come to take us away. I suppressed a sad smile. Holden and I had set this room on fire back when our magic was as unstable as our childhood imaginations.

A few of my old paintings hung on the walls over an old wooden chair that faced the arched window. Birds chirped outside as they flew past, making their way back to the trees for the rest of the night. Moonlight lit the room well, reflecting off the treetops through the window. I found Sloane sitting in the chair, stroking a kitten he had found somewhere in the castle. His mind was quiet as he sat, staring out over the forest, eyes heavy.

"Sloane?" I stood beside him, watching quizzically. "Sloane are you alright?"

"What does it mean to you to be Asarlaí?" He whispered. I sat beside him thinking. This was not the sort of question I had anticipated. After a month of reading his thoughts it was still hard for me to understand just what his thoughts meant. I had to be careful not to answer his thoughts instead of his words. "It's being me." I stated simply. "My people expect things of me. As the heiress to the throne it is my duty to lead my people, to give them times of peace and prosperity, to guide them and make a life for them. Asarlaí, to create or conjure, it's in my name, it's in my blood; I have no other choice." This did not seem to satisfy him so I went on.

"It is said that many, many years ago, there was a Goddess who controlled Will and Fate. She created and she destroyed. She made a race and entrusted to them all her lands and riches. She gave them power, similar to her own, but nowhere near her degree of strength. She watched over them and showed them how to live prosperously. One day, the powers grew unstable." I paused for a moment, eying his face for any sign of recognition. Sloane's eyes gazed out the window towards the stars, indifferent.

"Unstable?" He asked, encouraging me to continue. I heard Sloane let out a heavy breath. "This is going to be a sad story." He turned his head to look at me, his expression unreadable. I nodded.

"Yes, nobody knows for sure what triggered it. Some said a jealous lover was thrown into a rage and could not contain himself. Others say it was simply evolution. When they say knowledge is power it, is the truth."

"So what happened?" Sloane slumped down a bit in the chair sending dust motes into the air. "The goddess did not know what to do. The unstable magic had torn apart the country side, devastating everything. So she did all that she could do to stop it. She took the royal family, and ripped their magic apart."

Sloane's eyes grew wide. "Their descendants are the Asarlaí and the Ceangail?" I nodded. "It is a sad tale, but what is worse is the notion of two halves of one whole determined to destroy one another." Sloane mulled the thought over a bit. "What would happen if the two sides joined again? If the blood was mixed again, would it really be so bad?" Sloane's thoughts had gone dark with misgivings. "Would it destroy everything? I wish I knew which side I came from .Knowing my luck, I'm a mongrel to fit for either society."

"If there is one thing I have learned, it's that history repeats itself. All we can hope for is that it will not be so cruel." I whispered, afraid. There were thoughts in his head I did not care to hear.