Chapter Thirteen: Part Ten

I tug at the hem a bit, wishing I could fill out the material a bit more. I feel like a child playing dress-up in my father’s clothing.

I force myself to stop picking at my clothes and I go to the sink. I pick up my old brush and proceed to brush out my hair, now hanging almost to my shoulders.

Once I’ve finished I choose one of my old silver clips and pull the hair around my face back and clip it into place.

I turn and look into the full length mirror. A jolt of surprise runs through me. I’m looking at my father. A younger, shorter haired version of my father, but my father nonetheless. I breathe in deeply, steadying myself mentally before turning and exiting the bathroom.

The girls have gone and it’s just Caden, Sara, and I. Caden is in the seating area and Sara is settled in my bed, tucked beneath the blankets. Someone has braided her long hair over her shoulder.

Caden stands and heads into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. While Caden is in the bathroom, I go in search of a small hand mirror I had as a child. I remember using it to look around corners back when I would spy on the goings on in the castle. I stopped when I was about ten, but I kept the mirror.

I rummage through a few trunks and drawers, finding many old treasures, but forcing myself to leave them and keep searching.

I finally find the mirror on a shelf covered in many other old mementos from my childhood. The mirror is smaller than I remember, only about three inches by four inches. It’s completely clean and dust free. The servants have done a good job at keeping the room clean.

I take the mirror over to the sitting area and set it on the table and settle myself in to wait, drinking more of the cool fruit juice.

Caden emerges from the bathroom a while later just moments before there’s a knock on the door. Caden heads over and opens the door. Massers is waiting on the other side. Caden ushers him in while I stand and buckle on my sword.

“Your highness,” he says with a bow. “The council members are gathered together in the meeting room, as you’ve requested.”

I tuck the mirror into a pocket that’s hidden in the vest and head over to join Caden and Massers by the door.

“Tell me, does the meeting room contain a round table?” I ask.

“No, highness, it’s a rectangular table.” He replies, looking confused.

“Is there a meeting room with a round table?” I inquire.

“No, highness,” he replies. I frown in consternation but he hastens a reply.

“There is, however, a breakfast room with a round table.” He says.

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Chapter Thirteen: Part Nine

“I’ll carry her.” He says. “When you’re done come get me and I’ll carry her back to bed.” He instructs and Yana nods her acceptance of the order. Caden leans down and gently gathers Sara into his arms and carries her into the bathroom.

I go and sit down in the sitting area, perusing what we’ve been brought to eat. It’s a fairly simple meal for the royal cook’s standards, although it’s hearty and quick to eat and that’s appreciated right now. There’s roasted meats, fresh fruits, rolls, chopped vegetables, and a platter of small pastry pies that won’t take more than two bites to finish off.

Caden emerges from the bathroom and the two of us tuck in, finding ourselves starving after the excitement of the morning.

We’re both finished eating within about ten minutes and both lounge back in our chairs, sated and drinking the fruit juice that was provided with the meal. It’s ice cold and crisp and I can taste apples, cranberries, and raspberries. It’s been years since I’ve tasted food and drink so delicious and I attempt to relax and enjoy it before I have to step back into the fray.

Not too long later Yara steps out and waves at Caden, who gets up without hesitation and follows her into the bathroom. A moment later he comes out carrying Sara, clean and dressed in a flowing white night gown. Yara and Yana follow behind carrying the dirty linens.

While he gets Sara situated, I take my pile of clothing into the bathroom and shut the door firmly behind me. Even though I wish I could linger and luxuriate in my opulent bathroom. I know I don’t have much time before Massers comes back and Caden needs time to wash and change as well.

I fill the tub and give myself a quick but thorough wash, being careful not to aggravate my bruises and sore muscles too much. Once I’m clean and have used one of the large, fluffy towels to dry off I proceed to get dressed.

I don’t recognize any of the clothing as any of my old ones which leads me to believe it isn’t mine. This is confirmed after I’ve laced the neck and sleeves of the tunic and have lifted up the vest. It’s a black crushed velvet vest with a sweeping willow stitched in silver across the front. These clothes were my father’s.

I hold the vest up and stare at it for a few moments, swallowing past another lump in my throat and blinking away the stinging in my eyes. The last time I saw this vest my father was wearing it.

Steeling myself, I pull the vest on and tighten the laces at the sides. The vest is almost too big, which isn’t surprising considering I’m more wiry muscle whereas my father was more brawn.

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Chapter Thirteen: Part Eight

“The parchment will do.” Mione says after a moment of studying Caden’s parchment. “Just place it in the very center of the table.”

A knock at the door draws my attention away from Mione. Caden immediately heads over to open the door, hand resting on the hilt of his sword. His other hand goes for the handle but he turns to me for permission. I hold up a finger, indicating that I want him to wait a moment. I turn back to Mione who answers my question before I can even voice it.

“All have to do to get back in touch with me is to knock on any mirror three times. Don’t forget to bring a small mirror with you to the meeting so I can speak the spell.” She says with a smile before nodding her head at me.

“Until later, your highness.” She says and then her image disappears only to be replaced with the reflection of my bedroom.

I then turn and indicate for Caden to open the door. He pulls open the heavy door and peeks out through the crack for a moment before stepping back and pulling the door open the rest of the way.

A young woman wearing a maid’s uniform is standing on the other side holding a tray laden down with food and drinks.

“Hello sir,” she says to Caden before turning to me and dipping down into a shallow curtsy. I understand that if she were to dip too low then she’d lose the tray so I don’t reprimand the curtsy that regularly would be seen as disrespect.

“Highness,” she acknowledges. “We’ve come with your meal, your clothing, and to help with the young lady.”

Caden motions her in and another girl follows close behind, arms full of folded clothing. Both girls come straight to me and both dip into another curtsy. From looking at them, it’s obvious they’re sisters.

“What are your names?” I ask. Both girls look surprised to be asked but they answer readily enough.

“I’m Yana and this is my little sister Yara.” The first girl with the food tray answers. I smile at them and they smile hesitantly back, obviously not used to courtesy from the royals.

“If you will, you’ll get Sara cleaned up and changed. Caden and I will eat while you do that and, once you’re done, we’ll then get cleaned up and change.” I instruct.

The girls nod their acquiesce and Yana places the food tray down on the small table in the sitting area while Yara places the clothing on the end of my bed and sorts it into three piles.

“This pile is yours, highness, and this one is Caden’s.” Yara says, indicating two of the piles. She picks up the third, obviously for Sara, and carries it into the bathroom. Yana goes to Sara and starts to lift her but Caden intervenes.

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Chapter Thirteen: Part Seven

“What kind of solution?” I ask.

“I can offer you a gaes.” Mione says, running a hand through her messy hair, mussing it up even more.

“A what?” Caden asks, perplexed. I share the same sentiment. I’ve no clue what she’s talking about.

“A gaes is a magical compulsion that I’ll place on the six people for you. With the compulsion, they won’t be allowed to speak to anyone about the real reason why you’re away without serious consequence.” Mione explains.

“The punishment could be as simple as their tongue sticking to the roof of their mouth, or as drastic as death.” Mione adds, although her distaste at the prospect of killing anybody is blatantly apparent.

“You can make the compulsion anything?” I ask after a moment of thoughtful silence. Mione nods in response.

“So if the compulsion was as complicated as to run the Kingdom in a satisfactory manner, to keep our secret, and to stomp out any possible uprisings?” I suggest, raising my eyebrows.

“Yes, I can do that.” Mione replies with a wide smile and I can’t help but grin back. She’s effectively solved my problem.

“Great. Is there anything specific you need for the spell?” I ask curiously. Mione nods and rummages around on the table in front of her for a moment before pulling out a rumpled piece of parchment and an old quill and ink bottle.

She takes a few moments to scratch away at the paper before holding it up so Caden and I can see what she’s drawn. It’s another rune, although I can’t tell the difference between this one and the ones she drew on Sara and Caden’s hands earlier. Caden turns and goes to my desk against the wall where my writing supplies are.

“You need to have everyone sitting at a table and this rune needs to be placed in the center. You cannot be in the circle or you’ll be placed under the gaes as well and the compulsion won’t allow you to leave on your journey. You’ll also need to bring a mirror there with you so I can say the spell to activate the gaes.” Mione explains, still holding the rune up for Caden who has a piece of parchment in his hand and is copying it down.

“Does the rune need to be drawn directly onto the table or will the parchment do?” Caden asks, holding up his copy for Mione’s inspection.

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Chapter Thirteen: Part Six

The view is strange however, because only a small circle in the center of my mirror is showing her room while the rest is reflecting my own. It appears as though she’s sitting down and it’s only a moment later that I realize that she must be sitting at a dressing table looking through her own smaller mirror.

“You have an idea?” I ask, attempting not to sound too eager. But at this point I just have no clue how to proceed. If I left, the Kingdom could, and most likely would, be snatched out from under me in my absence.

“You must have your council, Massers, and Dormer manage in your place, your highness. I’ve located the Seelie Queen. She’s moved much farther south so if you hurry, you can be there and back in less than a fortnight.” Mione explains.

“But what will I tell the council? What is my reason for leaving?” I ask. Her plan is simple and it is what I would normally do if I were to leave on an absence, but right now I have no valid reason that I can share with them that would explain my absence. It’s not like I could tell them the real reason.

“You tell them the truth.” Mione replies simply, folding her hands on the table in front of her.

“The truth?” I reply, incredulously and Mione nods. I glance from her to Caden and find him looking at Mione, seeming to be just as confused as I am.

“Yes, the truth. You’ll tell those six people and they’ll keep your Kingdom running in your absence. They’re all loyal to you and will squash down any uprisings while you’re away.” Mione explains. I shake my head in response. She’s ignoring the obvious.

“If I tell them the truth they’ll shun me. They’ll never accept a Vessel on the throne. To them, a Vessel is still something to be reviled.” I say, voice laced with sadness. Mione shakes her head and smiles.

“They’ll believe you, sire. You forget, you are the crowned prince. You’ll be their King in a few weeks time. Tell them the truth of Vessels. They’ll understand.” Mione persists. I shake my head, still unbelieving. Mione sighs in response.

“If that’s how you feel, I can offer a magical solution.” She says. I look at her, a bit suspiciously.

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Chapter Thirteen: Part Five

I hesitate for only the briefest moment before lifting the heavy latch and pushing the door open. I step back and Caden enters first. I follow reluctantly, shutting the door firmly behind me.

The room is identical to the room I slept in at Mione’s home, so this lessens the blow somewhat. But I knew that that room wasn’t real. This one, I know, is. This is my childhood room and I feel a tightening in my chest and throat that I struggle to suppress.

Caden is already through the sitting area and is attempting to pull the bed covers back without putting Sara down.

I hurry over and pull the blankets back. Caden lowers Sara down and gently removes her shoes, placing them on the floor beside the bed. He brushes her hair off her forehead and over her shoulder before leaning down and placing a gentle kiss on both her scars before placing a chaste kiss on her lips.

He straightens up and leaves the blankets pulled back, lest they become stained with Sara’s blood.

Caden follows me over to the sitting area in front of a large fireplace. The chest of firewood is just where I remember it, resting against the wall beside the fireplace. I find the tinderbox sitting conveniently on the mantle.

Between the two of us we get the fire started in a matter of minutes. We’re so used to working together that we don’t have to speak. We work flawlessly around each other and are soon settled into the plush chairs, staring into the flickering fire.

Caden scoots down until he’s sprawled inelegantly in his chair, arms thrown out over the arms. I shift myself until I’m leaning sideways in the chair, ankles crossed, elbow resting on the arm and holding my chin with my hand.

“We need to leave as soon as possible.” I say. Caden looks over at me and hums in response.

“How can I justify leaving right now? I’ve only just won back the crown. How am I supposed to leave right away?” I question. Caden tilts his head back and stares at the vaulted ceiling, thinking.

“I don’t know, Ayers.” He says after a while.

“I may have a solution.” A new voice echoes around the room. Both Caden and I jump up in surprise, Caden holding out his sword.

“Over here. The mirror.” The voice comes again. I turn to the wall next to closet where a large mirror resides.

It’s Mione. Caden and I walk over and I marvel at what the mirror holds. It’s like looking through a window. I’m looking at Mione in a messy bedroom, clothing strewn everywhere and the bed rumpled and unmade.

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Chapter Thirteen: Part Four

I sigh and close my eyes for a moment, collecting myself. Then I open them and look to Dormer and Massers.

“Massers, give those four names to Dormer. Dormer, you tell them that they’ve been called back into service by the crowned prince Ayers. Have them brought directly to the council’s meeting chambers. I also need Sarsur’s family confined to their chambers for the time being. Their rooms are to be guarded. No messages in or out. For now, have all the guard posts in the castle doubled. You’re dismissed.” I reel off.

Dormer gives me a bow and heads off, calling to a group of guards who come forward at his call. Each one of them has a silver badge on their chest; lower officers. After a few moments of speaking with them, they scatter and take groups of guards with them.

Dormer has four guards assigned to protect me, Caden, and Sara. A guard comes up beside us, holding an unconscious Sara to his chest.

“Highness,” he acknowledges, bowing his head in respect. I nod in reply before turning back to a waiting Massers.

“Are there any clean and empty bedchambers?” I ask him.

“Yes, highness. Your childhood chambers have been kept clean and empty of inhabitants.” He replies promptly. My throat constricts but I swallow past it.

“Alright. Sara, Caden, and I will go there to freshen up and rest for now. Have a meal sent up as well as changes of clothing for all three of us as well as a handmaiden to care for Sara.” I tell Massers who nods.

“Put the servants back to work and come get me when the old council members are collected and waiting for me.” I instruct. Massers heads off to do as he’s told and I motion for Caden to follow me out of the throne room. He turns and takes Sara gently from the guards’ arms and follows me out.

The four guards Dormer assigned move into formation around us, two in front and two in back, with Caden, Sara, and I in the middle.

I remember how to get to my rooms and I walk as quickly as possible, not wanting to linger and look upon the halls I grew up in. I don’t know how I’ll handle seeing them yet.

We reach the doors to my rooms and I place my hand on the wood, feeling the familiar ivy carvings beneath my palm. After a moment, I turn and direct the guards to wait in the hall. They turn without question and station themselves in the hallway, two directly outside the doors and the other two a bit down the hallway in either direction.

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