Notes from the Palace
Chapter 3 of Opal Fox from a 3rd person limited POV following Emory. I know it's out of order, just read it.
A little over a week after the Dielle girls' appearance at court the gossips were still embellishing the tale. How Lord Derie and Lady Marie had confronted Lord Avelay, declaring their undying love and determination to wed in spite of him, how the old man had almost keeled over from a heart attack, and how, at last, he had relented, embraced his son and soon-to-be daughter, and promised to provide the young couple an estate to raise grandchildren on. That was the story in circulation. Prince Emory knew better, but he had not bothered correcting the erroneous versions, instead he concentrated on something he found much more important. At least, that's how he phrased it when he related the story much later.
It was late morning and with the King at court and the Crown Prince still asleep the palace would have been quiet if not for the Queen wandering through the royal suites and calling for her younger son.
"Emory!" she exclaimed when she spotted him. "Where are you going?"
"I'm just going for a ride!" he called as his mother's face appeared in the door. The Queen frowned slightly when she saw her son pulling on his riding jacket.
"It's so cold out, do wear a coat!"
"It's not that bad and I don't even feel it half the time," he laughed as he finished with the buttons and fluffed the bow of his cravat.
"Your sisters were hoping that you would attend their tea party this afternoon."
The Queen crossed the room quickly and smoothed her son's ruffled hair before adjusting his high collar.
"Now don't make that face!"
Emory quickly stood up straight and smiled down at his mother as she continued to make small adjustments to his attire.
"Mother, you know that they will try to make me sit at their little table and make small talk with their dolls."
"But it's adorable!"
He shook his head and planted a kiss on her cheek. "I'll be back before dinner."
"I should hope so!"
As soon as he was out of sight he ruffled his hair again and turned his collar back up. The prince took his horse. He knew it better and could trust it far more than his moa, which was skittish and new. Together they flew down the narrow alleys that provided the fastest way out of the city. These back ways remained free from the traffic of the main boulevards, with only a few lazy donkeys and their carts providing obstacles to slip around or leap over. And right now, while the buzz of action was with him, he wanted to get there as fast as possible.
The west road was dappled with late morning sunlight as he rode out towards the Dielle estate. It had not been hard to ask how to get there. A casual word here and there and information came spilling out about the elusive family. Of course, it turned out they were far less elusive than he had previously thought.
The most basic inquiry revealed that Sir Charles came into the city every time there was a major vote in the Assembly and sat at an opulent little café a block from the Palace entrance. His supporters would periodically send runners to update him on proceedings and from the comfort of his sidewalk table he would send directions back. Lady Anabella was a leading socialite, setting the social calendar for their whole party while the girls had their own sets they moved among. It had taken him several days to digest this information. The idea that the social world did not revolve around him, while something his parents had introduced when he was young, had rarely been in evidence and it took some adjusting to.
The turn-off was impossible to miss, marked as it was with a huge iron gate carrying the Dielle family crest and a smaller sign warning of dogs. It occurred to him then that he would not be the most welcome visitor at the Dielle chateau and he veered off the road into the woods surrounding the property. Emory didn't know why he did it but he wandered through the trees, following the road from a distance. When fields opened up on either side of the drive he followed their edges. This rambling took him out of sight of the road and the manor, but he was still hesitant to approach it directly. Something seemed off, unfriendly, about the open spaces and the half-hidden rise of an ancient stone tower.
A distant sound of laughter caught his attention and he rode towards it cautiously. The undergrowth thinned and shortly he found himself on a gravel path that led towards the sound. Under the trees there were patches where snow had survived in the shade though temperatures had been above freezing for a few days and the chill seeped through his clothes as he continued. There was a shriek from up ahead and he urged his horse to a trot, though laughter a moment later eased his fears. Around a bend in the path he could see the trees end and a blaze of white, which he imagined had to be snow, though how it was there in an open field he had no idea. Another shriek caught his attention and he rode forward eagerly only to find a white shape detach itself from the snowy whiteness and come hurtling towards him.
A moment later the shape turned its head and he saw that it was Aurelie and not a small yeti leaping over the uneven ground. She was swathed in white fur, from her hood to the boots peaking out below the hem of her overcoat. The only colors to break the scheme were the flushed pink of her face and a few dark hairs that had escaped the hood. She let out a startled cry when she saw him and the next thing the prince knew he was under attack. The sudden impact of a snowball spooked his horse and he fought to keep the beast under control as the battery continued.
"Truce! Truce!" Emory shouted as he slid from his saddle and crunched down in the snow quickly piling about him.
She never heard him over the arcane words she was frantically chanting as she jumped up and down on the spot. The horse jerked free and cantered off while another snowball sent him reeling backwards, and then the tree he was standing under decided to disgorge the contents of its bows on his head. It was a good three feet of snow and he was too shocked to even knock away the pile on top of his head.
"You! What are You doing here?" she shouted and he stared back at her. "By the goddess! Do you have any idea what the dogs would have done if they caught you off the path?!"
She took a deep breath, as if to continue yelling, but no sound ever came. Aurelie sprung forward just as another figure appeared on the eaves of the forest.
"Found you!" came the distant yell, followed quickly by the thunder of snow crashing through the tree branches.
This time there was far more snow. This time everything was obscured as the pile covered both of them. Emory flailed, pushing the snow back from around his face, but more continued to tumble in with every movement. The stuff was thick and heavy and it dragged on his movements as he gasped. That this whole adventure had not been his best idea was beginning to dawn on him when he felt a wave of warmth. Aurelie burst through the drift, collided with him, grabbed his hand and kept going. He could feel the intense heat coming off of her as she pushed through the last of the drift. The snow melted as she touched it and he wondered at seeing so much magic in one day. But as soon as they were clear it ended and the cold returned.
"What's going on?" he managed to ask as he brushed more clumps of snow from his jacket. It had gotten all down the back of his neck and was melting where he couldn't reach it.
"It's a game," she huffed as she tugged him along through the trees, little puffs of breath appearing between each word.
"She buried us!" he exclaimed, glancing back over his shoulder at the quickly disappearing snow heap. "She completely buried us!"
"You're lucky it wasn't ice!" Aurelie shouted as she made a sharp turn in the undergrowth.
"The next step is to freeze it over so that it's harder to get out."
"Why are you doing this?"
"We're practicing battle magic," she puffed again, spinning around and pulling him along. He watched as she made a complete circle, eyes scanning every nook and cranny of the snowy woods.
"B-battle magic? What-why would you ever practice that?"
She spared him a withering glance, just for a second and he shut his mouth he was so shocked by her utter disdain. Then she began pulling in another direction.
"We practice battle magic," she said a few minutes later, when they had put more distance between themselves and the path and her breaths were no longer pants, "because it's fun, and because," she glanced over her shoulder again, "we need to practice all types of magic. In an emergency if you need to make up a spell on the spot, you better damn well know what you're doing."
"And having your sister try to encase you in ice will help?" he asked, clearly still perplexed and a little horrified.
"It also builds stamina. Sea King knows I need it."
"Sea King," he murmured, not trying to be disrespectful, but it seemed she took it that way.
"Do you have a problem with who I pray to?" she demanded, dropping his hand and turning on him.
"No! We're just a long way from the sea."
She snorted and turned away from him, condensed breath hanging in the air between them like a spectral cloud. After a few second he could see that she was counting, her gloved hand and boot steadily tapping out the seconds. After a few more seconds he could hear the crunch of footsteps following them and he wondered why they weren't still running. It occurred to him that she intended to stand and fight as she flicked her hand to tell him to move back. She didn't need to tell him twice.
Marie Dielle jerked into view as she jumped around a tree trunk. Her slight hop reminded him of a snow bunny but the fact that she had just covered him with six feet of snow quickly erased that gentle analogy. He heard her shout something, though he couldn't make out any of it. A moment later snow was falling from all the trees around them and cascading towards Aurelie. Aurelie tapped out two more seconds, snapped both hands and made a strange swirling gesture before lunging forward with one palm thrown towards her sister. All the snow that had been falling melted, starting with that nearest her and spreading outwards to Marie. The fine drizzle came down, harmlessly, until Aurelie twisted her outstretched hand upwards, closed her fist and pulled down. Down fell her sister as every plant between them bent noticeably.
A second later Marie was on her feet again and Aurelie had been thrown back several feet by some invisible force.
"Don't hit the Prince!" she shouted as she struggled to her feet.
The prince was tempted to help her up but wasn't sure the gesture would be taken well.
"What are you talking about?" Marie cried as if it was a dirty trick to distract her
"I'm defending someone over here!" She gestured angrily towards Emory and he started. He doubted he wanted Marie's attention directed towards him at that moment.
"Oh!" Marie exclaimed, apparently noticing him for the first time. "Um, wait…" The melted snow finished drizzling out as they stood there in silence, Marie quickly blinking and squinting at the prince. "Is that-are you-Your Highness!"
Marie slipped into a curtsey while Aurelie burst out laughing. She leaned forward, planting her hands on her legs, before slowly sinking to her knees as her laughter died away.
"Aurelie!" Lady Marie exclaimed as she looked up again. "Don't go to sleep there!"
Emory was already hurrying to her side as her sister began scolding. This time his chivalrous drive won out over self-preservation.
"Just a little dizzy," she said as he pulled her to her feet. "It's just a momentary drain."
"What's wrong?" he asked as he held her arms. It seemed that she would sink back to the ground if he let go and it wasn't as if he minded holding pretty girls. It was actually something that frequently got him into trouble.
"Sudden loss of a lot of magic," Marie answered, "can leave you feeling dizzy, light-headed, and tired."
"Everyone has physical strength," Aurelie said as she stood straighter. "We have magical strength too. The only way to get stronger is to push yourself and sometimes when you go a little far it takes some time to recuperate."
"Will you be alright?" he asked and both girls looked momentarily surprised. He assumed they must have fits like this frequently if they weren't used to people being concerned.
"Oh yes, I'll be fine," she said, gently shaking him off. "But back to my original question, what are you doing here?"
"Yes!" Marie chimed in. "Are you lost or something?"
"Ah, no," Prince Emory said slowly. He was rarely at a loss for words, but their intent and matching stares made him forget his prepared speech. They both had storm-grey eyes. All he managed was: "I came to pay a call on you." They both continued to stare at him, as if willing him to say more and after a few moments he caved. "After our conversation at court I was—intrigued. I wanted to know more about, your family."
"Go and ask my father then," Aurelie said with a wave of her hand. "He'll tell you our history, several hours of it."
"I was hoping," he said as she made a move to walk away, "that you could tell me."
He caught the flash of her eyes, the disbelieving look and heard Marie's twittering laugh. The eyes weren't what had first caught his attention but he was liking them more and more.
"I'm slightly afraid of your father." He smiled widely, doing his best to pretend innocence while the girl stared at him. "I'm not sure he would take it very well if I walked and said 'So tell me about yourself old chap. I heard you and my father have a bit of history."
Aurelie laughed and covered her mouth while Marie turned away, being without her fan. It was the first time he had seen her really laugh and she lit up even as she was trying to hide the expression; it was turning into a worthwhile trip after all.
"I think I'd be lucky to get away with being booted from the house."
The prince sneezed then, without even having to force it and saw the girls set aside their better judgment as he searched around for a handkerchief. He knew which pocket it was in but a little extra show never hurt.
"Well you'd better come in and dry off, your highness," Aurelie said.
"Ah excellent idea, but my horse-"
"I told it to go to the stables." She began walking back towards the trail, falling in-step beside her sister.
"You told it?" He rushed to catch up with them, bouncing alongside as the girls linked arms. They reminded him more strongly of yetis now, as they trudged through the snow. Though the only time he had seen one was on a visit to his uncle, the King of Beishuay, and it was in a zoo.
"You weren't listening," she said with a sly smile and they both giggled.
"Then I shall have to watch you much more closely, milady."
He laughed lightly and pulled aside a branch for the girls as they reached the little path. It was still dappled with late morning light and he had plenty of time before anyone would wonder where he was.