"Are you really leaving?" The little boy's blue eyes shone with innocence as he looked up.
"We shall still see each other, Balan, I promise. I swear to come and visit whenever I can, Laeant is but a fortnight away, you know."
"I know...it's just that.." The telltale quivering of the boy's lower lip gave way to the dripping of a few errant tears which had somehow found their way past his childlike determination.
Kneeling, Isolde wiped the tears from her brother's eyes and ruffled his hair, "Surely I thought you'd know better than to try those foul tactics on me. Aida may fall for it, but I can see past those crocodile tears."
The boy laughed, a grin spreading across his freckled face before he finally gave way to the fountains of tears longing to burst forth..
"Please don't go...I'm sure there's plenty of men to marry here in Alowen, why do you have to go so far away?" his desperate pleas were barely audible over the sobs which rocked his small body as he buried his face in his sister's hair.
"It'll be alright, I promise." She crooned, stroking his dark head of hair, "you'll just have to be brave for a while. Think of all the fun you'll have with just Aida here, all the sweets she'll let you have before supper, and the stories before bed, you'll have a grand time without me here to hinder you."
The boy looked at her, not assuaged in the least, his innocent eyes wordlessly convicting her of her empty words which she herself did not believe.
Sighing, she finally conceded, trying to withhold her own tears from falling. "I don't want to go either Balan, but...well, there's some things in life you simply must do. It's for the best, I promise, please don't cry..."
Setting his jaw and standing tall, like his toy soldiers scattered across the carpet, the boy composed himself, sniffing, "Alright...just don't forget about us, promise?"
"I promise," Isolde assured him, standing, "And if I find you've been misbehaving I shall have to bundle all your punishment into one visit."
"I'll be good..." He reluctantly agreed.
"Balan, go clean up your toys and give me a moment with your sister." said Aida, emerging from where she stood by the doorframe.
Aida was their nursemaid since Balan was born. The woman was kindly, though aging rapidly. Her wrinkles told a story of a lifetime of smiling at their childish antics, furrowing her brows in disapproval and squinting her eyes as she read her books while they played. Isolde was nearly taken aback when she recalled Aida's first arrival, the woman had been so much younger then, marked by neither wrinkle nor blemish, and as the years passed she had transformed into the kind old crone before her. Had it truly been so long since she first arrived?
The elderly woman approached her, surveying the girl's luggage, before turning back and resting a hand on her shoulder, "Ready?"
"I suppose so," Isolde admitted, realizing the finality of it all as she took in the sight of her belongings, all packed tightly into numerous cases.
"It'll do you good to get out of here." Aida assured, smoothing the wrinkles in her dull gray gown, "I know you love the little one, but it's just no good for you to be here, with the king like he is. Perhaps you'll be happier."
Isolde leaned in, speaking at barely a whisper as the telltale lump in her throat warned her of the oncoming tears, "Promise me..." She bit her lip, warding off tears, "Promise me you'll take care of him."
Aida embraced her, "Always,"She paused, "My Isolde, I remember as if it were only yesterday when that little stern girl scolded me for allowing her brother to have a sweet roll before supper...and now look at you...a grown woman..." Stepping back, the elderly woman brushed away her tears and handed Isolde the bag filled with her belongings, "Now, go say your goodbyes to your father, he was seeing his counsel in the throne room last I heard."
Isolde nodded, casting one more glance back at Balan, who had fallen fast asleep on the rug by the window, toy soldiers scattered about him as if defending their king, standing at attention in a haphazard circle around him. Rays of the evening's last light cast a warm glow around his sleeping face. The young girl fought back tears as she realized the finality of her departure. She would never get to show him how to climb the large tree in the garden, as she had promised to do some day, never get to scold him for eating sweets before dinner, never get to see him grow up...
Firmly setting her jaw she emerged into the great hallway, the clacking of her heels against the marble echoing throughout the expanse of the hall. As she passed the many rooms of the castle and descended the stairwell, she was reminded of every horrid memory that lingered in each of the sickeningly ornate rooms, the ghostly voices lingering in her mind. Absentmindedly she grasped the golden hem of her sleeves, pulling the long green silk down further, reminded of the most recent of those memories. Perhaps it would be good for her to leave this place.
The sound of true voices interrupted her dark memories and she noticed the sound of a voice quite unlike any of her father's counselors, it was lilting, drifting from low notes of seriousness, to a high-pitched cackle. Her father's gruff voice could be heard as well, menacing as ever as he berated whoever was present in the room.
Fearing any further delay, and imbued with the boldness that came from knowing her father would no longer have power over her once she left this awful place, Isolde smoothed any wrinkles in her green silk gown, brushed her long amber hair behind her and entered the throne room.
"Ahhh, It seems we have a visitor, your highness!" The strange man cackled, seeming fiendishly delighted by her arrival.
The king gruffly stood with difficulty, hoisting his massive form from the throne, "Isolde, you impertinent girl!" He bellowed, "Begone! How dare you come before me uncalled!"
"Tsk, tsk, tsk, such rudeness! Please, my girl, come in..."
The man turned to her, and at last Isolde could see him as a stray beam of light from the windows behind her father's throne fell across his face. Shocked, Isolde dropped her luggage, the thud echoing through the empty throneroom as the case clattered against the dark marble. Never in all her days had she laid eyes on such an unholy sight as the man who stood before her. The man was tall and relatively thin, dressed in somewhat fine clothes which appeared to be old and worn, his hair hung to his jawline in dark blond waves and his amber eyes remained fixed solely on her, illuminated by the light, shining with a wicked iridescence. Try as she might Isolde could not will her eyes away from his face, scarred, tanned and monstrous, with an almost scale-like glow across his skin. He smiled broadly at her horror, relishing the terror in her emerald eyes and revealing a row of crooked, stained teeth.
"My dear king, if you would, beckon your daughter to come," The man laughed, if he could truly be called a man at all, "She seems to be stunned by my charm and good looks."
"You want nothing with her, monster, she's worthless." The king admonished.
"Again, such poor manners! You have managed to insult myself and your dear daughter here within the same breath." He laughed, high and shrill, like a mad jester, before sauntering over to where she stood, holding her breath and shaking, "Now from what I understand she isn't worthless at all. In fact," he raised a gangly finger, "I believe congratulations are in order! This blushing bride-to-be is the glue in your...delicate alliance with the king of Laeant is she not?"
"What are you getting at, beast?" The king roared, "Get away from her!"
In an instant the wicked jester was no longer beside her, but was seated on the arm of the king's throne, legs crossed and head tilted, "Look, your highness, you're in somewhat of a precarious situation, and I don't think name-calling is quite the best course of action. You told me to name my price...and so I shall."
He extended a long bony finger in Isolde's direction, "Her."A/n: Well, hoped you liked it so far, not sure I'm happy with the name Isolde, but oh well. Read and Review please!