"Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, they parted with leaves in their hair.
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."
- Nicole Krauss
June 3, 1258
Kingdom of Lithuania
The fresh purple buds of rosemary were in bloom, and the sweet aroma was spreading throughout the warm afternoon like a virus.
Throngs of young children were running about, whispering rushed secrets to one another and igniting giggles from throughout the clusters.
A small girl was sitting near a lone juniper tree, protected by it's willowy branches and leaves. She watched the others from the corner of her eye, an emotionless expression drawn on her face. Plucking the remaining sprouts of violet rosemary, she weaved them into her long hair, arranging her locks into an elaborate braid that curved around her lithe frame. She glanced up at the clear sky and grinned, watching the rolling clouds and the vast sea of blue devour the heavens above. "Don't I look just like a warrior princess, grandmother?"
The only reply was a soft, gentle blow of a breeze that echoed inside the girl's ears.
Sighing, the girl stood up and placed a hand on the rusty, worn bark of the tree, still staring into the sky.
"I would've liked an answer, grandmother, but I suppose it's alright," she hesitated, pausing to smooth out the crinkles in her gown. "I know inside my heart that you'd say yes if you were still here."
The girl reached down and picked another rosemary flower from the dewy pieces of grass, waving it in the wind as if to symbolize something extremely important.
"You see this flower, grandmother? It's for you." With those words, she let the tip of the stem leave her fingertips and watched as it flew away in the wind, the currents blowing it straight up into the heavens.
Crinkling her nose, the girl exhaled a deep breath, her light green eyes still observing the fading silhouette of the blossom flying towards the sun.
"Don't let it burn up, grandmother," she whispered, blinking her eyes to mask the oncoming tears that threatened to well up and fall. "It's a token of my love."
Suddenly, sounds of an approaching figure could be heard behind her and the girl froze, frightened. She glanced up at the old, tender tree and then shifted her eyes to her hand. Wrapping her arms around the trunk, she soon climbed up and concealed herself amongst the foliage, her eyes curiously awaiting the person that had interrupted her.
A tall, lanky boy about her age appeared with a tuft of dirty blonde hair. He seemed to be looking for something, someone, and the girl realized he was searching for her. Finally, the boy ceased his investigation and sighed, exasperated.
"You're quite the bad hunter, aren't you?" The girl called out, shifting her body so she was easily seen through the bundle of leaves.
The boy spun about, confused. Finally, he rested his gaze on her figure amidst the trees and nearly cried out of surprise. "How did you get up there?"
"It's called climbing," The girl stated, raising her head so her chin was high up in the air. She secured her hold on one of the branches and swung down, landing gracefully on her two feet upon the ground. "You haven't heard of it?"
The boy, somewhat abashed and frightened by her show of proficiency, backed away and scoffed. "Of course I know what climbing is."
He cocked his head, examining her with his eyes, taking in her frilly gown and glittering ornaments.
"What's a girl like you doing here? You seem to be of high rank." The boy said this with a hint of distaste in his voice, his eyes flashing fiercely as he tugged at the seam of his own ruffled shirt, which was nothing more than a tattered rag.
The girl, oblivious to his actions, regarded him with slight interest. She took in his light blue eyes and aristocratic, long nose, finishing with a lingering look on his lips. He couldn't be much more than her own age, twelve, but he had an air of authority that seemed to radiate from his body. "I can be anywhere I wish to be, and no one can stop me."
The boy grinned, running a hand through his pale hair, tousling it up even more. "You're a pretty girlie, I'll give you that, and you've got a headstrong attitude. That's rare."
Blinking, the girl parted her lips, as if to speak, but quickly shut her mouth. Instead, she fingered her loose braid, tilting her head so she was looking past his shoulders. "You're going to have to try harder if you want to flatter me."
"Who said I was flattering you?" The boy squinted, his face twitching as if to hide a smile.
The girl sighed, ignoring his question, and fluttered her hand over her face. "I know you were searching for me, but why?"
The boy quickly shook his head and raised a hand as if to stop her. "I wasn't looking for you. I was looking for someone else, someone who looks a lot like you," he said, shifting his weight on his legs uneasily. "I swear I thought you were Luce until I..." His voice trailed off and he averted his eyes, wanting to look anywhere but at her.
Thinking she'd caught him in a tight corner, the girl cleared her throat, not wanting to continue the conversation. "I guess I'll be on my way then, goodbye."
"No, wait!" The boy stopped her by gripping her arm, staring into her eyes steadily. His touch sent a shiver down her spine and she straightened her back, shocked at the energy and power the boy seemed to emit.
"I was thinking... that since we're alone and all, we could play together. Luce isn't here so..." The boy trailed off, loosening his grasp on the girl's wrist.
The girl wrestled her hand away and clenched it, narrowing her eyes at him. "I don't play with boys."
"Just for a few minutes please," he pleaded.
"Alright, alright," The girl finally caved in, anxiously glancing around her. "Just for a few minutes."
The boy suddenly lit up, smiling. Grabbing her hand in his, he led her to a secluded area teeming with poppies and baby breath. Tall grasses billowed in the wind, brushing up against the girl's ankles, tickling her. Off in the distance, swarms of pigeons were flying in the sky, obscuring the sight of the sun and shielding her from the strong glare of the rays.
The boy insisted on a small game of tag and it started out fairly well. The girl would run off shouting into the fields of flowers, giggling with ecstasy, and the boy would follow in pursuit. Panting, the girl would finally fall to her knees, tired and weary, admitting defeat. They continued on like that for several minutes, their shrieks and yells of joy spreading throughout the immense countryside.
Eventually, they ceased their game of play, sinking to the ground with heaps of laughter. The boy wrapped an arm around her shoulder, steadying her, as she attempted to regain her composure.
"I haven't had that much fun in years," she said, tucking a loose strand of hair back into it's place. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he replied, his cheeks still rosy with signs of happiness. "By the way, my name's Augustus."
"Augustus..." The girl murmured, committing the name to memory. "I promise I'll remember it."
"And yours?" Augustus prompted, raising a brow.
The girl stared at the ground, biting her lip with hesitation. She glanced up at the sky and then back at him, inclining her head so she could look him straight in the eye. "My name's Amira. You'll definitely, with no doubt, remember it."
September 25, 1262
Amira inspected herself in the mirror and still couldn't believe what she saw reflected on the glass. An elegant, black gown was slung over her small frame, strapless, yet with a corset-like back, tight enough to keep the dress on, but nothing that would choke off her air supply. Small embroidery was seen from the outside of her right breast, curving around her body to the bottom that reached her stomach. As she moved, her dress glittered slightly with the special silvery magic that was woven into the dark fabric. A hooped bottom was seen suspending just below her waist and a large front slit ran from just above her knees to the ground. Amira wore high black heels that seemed to glimmer every time she shifted. Her dark hair was curled in ringlets that framed her face, highlighting the brightness in her green eyes.
She didn't understand the point in dressing up.
Sighing, Amira leaned back onto her bed, drearily staring out of her window and into the somber night. She saw the twinkling, faint lights of the city of Lisossa and beyond that, the magnificent forest of Elytra.
She shuddered, a shivering tremor running down her spine. The world was so big, so unexplored. She wished she was the one to journey far off into it's depth, finding new treasures and meeting new people. Alas, she was a princess,
Looking back down at her dress, she ran a hand through the silken folds and tresses of her sable colored gown, biting her lip in deep thought.
Today was her cousin's, Rebecca Strathmore's, sixteenth nameday. Knowing Rebecca, she would've insisted on the finest of parties. Amira could almost imagine the gathering now; rich guests of royal lineage floating around in the ballroom, intertwining themselves with a duke or duchess of their fancy. The soft, luscious sounds of Northern music emanating from the background, played and performed by the musicians of the court. Masses of candles lit up amongst the pillars of columns, served to adorn the spacious stretch of the room. But one thing that delighted Amira the most, that extended way beyond the beauty of the festivities, was the suitors.
Oh, the suitors!
Dozens of handsome men from distant countries and regions would line up with gifts of fine jewelry and trinkets, eager to woo the princess heir of Lithuania. Amira almost felt pity for Rebecca. The moment she would arrive at the party, all central focus would be centered around her, and they would cast away all thought of the Strathmore's and their lone daughter.
Amira tenderly fingered one of her loose curls and hummed a piece of a ballad, losing herself in her musings and contemplations. Attending Rebecca's nameday party would be her first public appearance, and she tingled at the idea of being examined under the prying eyes of high ranked dignitaries and officials. Amira wasn't unattractive, in fact, far from it, but she wasn't used to the concept that foreign men would bluntly approach her and ask for her hand in marriage.
She didn't want to be wedded so young and so fast, she still had a lot to learn and she didn't mind stealing a few chaste kisses from boys before she assumed the official role as Queen of Lithuania.
It was exciting to indulge in temporary amusement by getting herself involved in romantic affairs.
She'd shared numerous meetings with Ezra Harpe, the son of Xenon Harpe, one of the members of the Council of Lithuania.
It was forbidden and exotic to entangle herself with Ezra. In the clans, it was looked down upon for the queens and princesses of Lithuania to consort with certain individuals related to the monarchy.
It wasn't like she was going to marry the lad, she thought.
Suddenly, a knock came at the door, and Amira froze. She rolled to her feet in a heartbeat, smoothing out the crinkles and ruffles in her gown.
Opening the door, she blinked with disappointment once she realized that her visitor was only Ethel, her nurse.
"Ethel, I wasn't expecting you."
The broad shouldered woman quickly walked in, glancing around Amira's room with suspicion. Seeming to realize that no danger posed an imminent threat, she turned back around and smiled. "Oh, Amira! You look so beautiful."
Amira gasped when she noticed that her old nurse's burgundy eyes were wet, welling with tears. She took Ethel's hand in her own, clasping it gingerly. "You are most kind, Ethel, but why are you crying?"
Ethel shook her head dutifully. "I've seen you grow up into a lovely, young lady," she squinted and inclined her head, examining Amira with pride. "You resemble your grandmother."
Amira sharply inhaled and attempted a weak smile. "Thank you, Ethel."
She was used to Ethel's constant fussing and show of affection. It warmed Amira in a way, knowing that her former nurse cared so much about her. Yet, the comment about her grandmother stung her like a bee. She released a deep breath, struggling to regain her composure, and put on the face of a princess - not a grieving grandchild.
"Also, I've got some news to share with you." Ethel said, all signs of her past teary-eyed state gone.
"News?" Amira raised a brow, interested. 'It must be really important', she thought, 'if Ethel rushed all this way just to share a few words with me.'
"Yes, news," Her nurse hesitated before squeezing Amira's hand. "Daniel Hanson has just arrived from his schooling at Fort Gregory's."
Amira's eyes widened and she paused, letting the depth of Ethel's words sink inside her body. Abruptly, she parted her lips and drew Ethel in a tight embrace, breathing in her jasmine scented smell. "Thank you so, so much for telling me," she whispered, her words quivering with excitement. "Please tell Daniel to meet me in the private orchards."
Ethel's face brightened as she took in Amira's thrilled expression. "I certainly will."
Amira thanked Ethel and kissed her weathered cheek before waving her away with the slight fold of her fingertips.
Ethel didn't move though. She furrowed her brow together, abashed. "Amira, don't you have to go to Rebecca's nameday party?"
Drat! Rebecca's party.
Amira hitched up her gown and lifted her chin in the air. "Ethel, Rebecca can wait. Go tell my mother and father that I'll be a bit late to the party. Also, make sure that Daniel receives my message."
Her nurse quickly nodded and backed away, disappearing into the shadows.
With a light sigh, Amira twirled in enthusiasm once she made certain that Ethel was gone. Daniel was coming. Daniel Hanson was coming. It had been a total of four years since she'd last seen him. He'd gone to Fort Gregory's for his military training and schooling and Amira had been sent to the Monastic School in Čedasai. They'd been separated for so long and now he was finally here.
Unable to contain her delight, she pictured Daniel's features in her mind. Curly, black hair and deep gray eyes. With his strenuous training and exercise; he'd have grown taller and leaner in these past years.
It gave Amira more of a reason to see him.
Glancing around her room, her eyes rested on the faint online of her rosemary plant, served as a mere decoration to liven up her dull chambers. Amira could taste the pungent smell of the leaves on her tongue, and she wrinkled her nose.
She knitted her brow together in puzzlement as she advanced towards the plant. Something was vaguely important about the rosemary, she was sure. It's sweet figure and stance mocked her and she ran her hands along the blades, wanting the peculiar feeling in the back of her head to go away.
And then she remembered.
The reminiscence struck her mind like a sharp arrow, causing her to take a step back and place her hand on her forehead with unease.
The willow tree, the vast sky, the young boy, the sounds of their giggles engulfing the countryside like a wildfire.
Something unfolded inside her heart and she closed her eyes, blinded by the dull ache throbbing in her chest.
She felt like she should of recalled something important, something dear, yet the lonely whispers of her thoughts obscured her memory.
She wanted to know the young boy's name, who he was.
Gasping, she reeled backwards, horror etched onto her face as she abruptly realized why she felt so miserable and lost.
She'd broken her promise.
If you don't understand the ending of this chapter, I recommend you go ahead and read the last few sentences in the flashback scene. It'll help. :D
Ahem, so I finally updated and finished this chapter. I hoped you enjoyed it! Also, thanks to everyone who reviewed my story thus far. I appreciate all the help. :)