by Ellie Robins
A story of magic intrigue romance and tragedy as Daecha discoveres the secrets of Boernan
After 20 years of endless monotony at her peaceful country estate, Cecily Gregale gasps as she drops the letter in her hand. This can’t be right. The girl couldn’t be allowed at court, not after all these years. She turns the letter over as she scans it for any signs of being tampered with.
“Impossible,” she whispers
Hurriedly, she dips her quill into the near empty ink pot and drafts a note to her palace contacts, telling them to prepare for her immediate arrival at court. Sealing the letter with a stamp, she grabs her coat and yells at the few servants still awake to ready her horse and deliver her note immediately.
Lillia Giza runs down the stairs in her nightgown, awakened by all the commotion, the young woman’s smooth skin gleaming dark as night in the candlelight. Seeing her companion’s cloak and traveling clothes, Lillia asks no questions and runs upstairs to get her own bag. There is an unspoken understanding between the two girls. It is time.
With her and Lillia’s horses saddled and bridled, their pre-packed luggage already secured to the carriage in tow, Cecily raises a hand to her remaining household in a quick goodbye. Without hesitation, she turns ahead, flipping up her hood as she mounts her mare, the horse’s white mane unbrushed from the ride earlier that evening. With a short glance towards Lillia who is atop a stallion beside her, she digs a heel into her horse. Their carriage will follow behind, catching up when they stop to change. Eyes squinting from the breeze as they head north, the wind whispers to her, already warning of the impending disaster that faces the country should she fail.
In less than an hour she and Lillia would arrive, yet it felt as though the horses couldn’t run fast enough. As they leave the grounds surrounding the estate, the landscape begins to look harder, the sky a darker shade of gray. Simply taking in the plight of Boernan sends a pang into Cecily’s heart.
The last time she’d left the grounds had been 11 years ago when she was only 9 years old. She remembers taking in the leached color and barren land and asking her then ailing mother if the earth was sick.
“Yes,” her mother had replied with a sad smile, “and it is our job to cure it.”
Since then, Cecily has tried to forget the starving look of beggars in the nearby village they’d been travelling to, pleading to her for anything she could spare them. All she could do was send a friendly breeze floating towards them, whispering of better days.
“We’re nearly there, and the sun is beginning to rise,” Lillia said, with a nervous glance towards the east, “We’d better stop now.”
Already they could see the bobbing lanterns hanging from the castle wall and the soldiers standing at the entrance.
As they pulled their horses towards the side of the road and dismounted, Lillia waved a hand and they were cloaked completely into the fading night, unseen by anyone. They quickly changed, and Cecily sent a breeze through her golden hair to weave half into a braid circling the back of her head as the other half lay gently curled around her shoulders. Lillia’s delicate braids needed little adjustment as Cecily simply sent a small wind to pull half of them up into a knotted bun. They both changed hastily into their dresses, Cecily’s sky blue with a flowing skirt, delicate neckline, and matching blue ribbon to highlight her waist, Lillia’s a deep shade of violet, accenting her curves and deep as night skin.
As they both finished, Lillia swept her hand back again and they headed towards the now waiting carriage and a terrifying future.
With the sunrise in bloom, and a new day of court beginning, Cecily begins to get nervous. She gently scuffles her feet against the cold stone floors beneath her. While this day seemed as though it would never come, now that she was here, she wasn’t sure she had the tact nor the patience to fulfill her mission. She’d always been a fidgety child, and unfortunately she’d never grown out of it, despite her hardest efforts. The wind does what it wants. It does not stand still for long.
As she walks into the foyer, the ambassador closely following, the guards cannot contain their surprise as they take in the family crest on her carriage and realize who she is. The Gregale family had not been to court in nearly a decade. Although always welcome, Cecily had tended to her mother until she’d died 13 years ago, and after that she’d remained in the country not only to begin planning and recruiting allies, but also because she finds the court to be a complete waste of time and energy. Everything about the uptight lords and tightly laced ladys simply amused Cecily to no end, what with their constant bickering and never ending fawning over all the princes. However, it would be a rare event indeed for the last remaining Gregale to arrive at court, especially this unexpectedly, so she would have to make an entrance to be sure she is noticed by the king.
Heels clicking on stone, Cecily begins taking in her surroundings looking around for any clues on where the girl could be as the guards lead her down a torchlit walkway towards the center of the palace. It was eerily quiet. That means the full court must be in session and not just the Lords. Great, just great she thought, trying to contain an eyeroll. What more could she expect though, honestly. As if a private audience with the young king wasn’t hard enough.
At last they reach the grand engraved doors that stretch as high as the ceiling, towering over even the tallest man, daring all to enter.
“It’s now or never,” Lillia muttered, “let’s just get this over with.”
At that, the guards stationed at the massive doorway threw them open, and as the two girls stepped onto the high balcony above the court and as a page announced their names, a quiet murmur filled the gold flecked auditorium lined with navy banners, new rumors and gossip already being formed. A Gregale had returned, and nobody knew if it was a blessing or a curse.
The carriage sways as a burst of wind rolls it along the cobblestone road, and Lady Daecha Coventry wonders if every turn of the wheel is a step closer towards her impending doom or tragic greatness in typical, dramatic, Daecha manner. As her and her companions stare out the window, they get their first glimpse at the looming palace of gray, already shrouded in the early morning fog. They can hear the distant, mournful cries of crows as they slowly circle the city ahead, a poor reflection of the wealth that lay beneath. Daecha stares at the landscape through the window, face full of disgust and angst, gloved hands clasped tightly together as her thin lips press into a line. Horses graze the pastures leading up to the long winding roads, ribs visible through their sickly frames.
“You know you don’t actually have to show your unending misery on your face right? Despite your aversion to the city and it’s court, you’re lucky you’re even going, even if it is a bit late.”
“I’m not miserable. I’m simply apprehensive. There’s a difference, Vasa,” Daecha said with a pointed look towards her charismatic older brother, “While you may think me insufferable, I was raised with the same manners as you.”
“Right you are dear sister, however I’m not the one trying to impress an entire court full of snooty noblemen judging my every move and deciding whether or not you are fit to be anyone’s bride or if you should just become a lonely old librarian now,” Vasa said as he snatches the book from Daecha’s lap with a laugh, “As much as you adore reading and sticking your nose into politics, that’s only going to convince the lords that your pretty little mouth turns into a stuttering expulsion of knowledge when given the chance. They’ll realize they were right to keep you away from court for your nonsense.”
“What? Afraid your little sister will ruin your reputation with the ladies?” Daecha said, snatching back her book with a smirk, “rumour has it you’re an endless flirt.”
Vasa rolls his eyes and gives Daecha a small kick in the shin which she returns with a pinch.
Their eldest brother’s voice, the voice of a lord, cuts through the carriage, “Be quiet and stop bickering, this is no way for a future Lord and Lady to act. I will not have my siblings be seen participating in such juvenile behavior.”
Both Daecha and Vasa fall back, but not without a glare from Vasa towards their older brother Archibald.
“I want no more of this. Daecha, listen to our brother’s advice. Cast your eyes down, nod your head, and plaster a smile on your darling face. While the inhabitants of our estate may tolerate your infinite spew of politics and nonsense, these are a different breed. Keep your mouth shut and your smile gracious. It’s a dangerous game you’re entering.”
Vasa mutters something about Archie being as dramatic as their little sister and how Daecha must learn from the best. The other two siblings ignore him.
“Archie, I am no longer a child. I know how to act properly, I’m sixteen years old. I was raised a proper lady.”
“The court will not welcome your opinions Daecha, I barely even tolerate them.”
“I know perfectly well how to behave Archie, might I remind you I was raised with our king as a child on the estate while you and Vasa were at court with Father. Nobody would dare harm me with Astley at my back. You needn’t worry.”
“I’m well aware of that Daecha,” Archie said, rubbing his temple, “but I’m just pointing out that while your knowledge and drive may seem to be your greatest strength, it is also your greatest weakness, and your political opinions will still be unwelcome by many at court.”
“I will not be made to look like a fool, and I refuse to let others dictate my opinions. While you may be content to lick every lord’s wounds to regain our status, I am most certainly not anyone’s pet.”
Silence filled the carriage as the gates to the looming stone fortress creaked open and the stench of the river Ciarán wafts in. It twines through the whole of the country, reluctantly connecting the citizens of Boenan, it’s near black waters offering little comfort to those passing by. The vast river serves as a sewer and waste deposit to many of the country’s inhabitants, solely cleaned out by the near constant drizzle that always seemed to plague the miserable country. It’s water’s have not run blue for at least a century.
Daecha shuddered thinking of entering this forbidden fortress, and she was a strange mix of eager and nauseous. This is the moment she’d been waiting for all of her life, the opportunity for her to change the world. She’d been banned from court for the majority of her life, and she would not waste this second chance. Politics and the court called to her, and she knew she was destined to make a difference, however terrifying it might be. The key was, however, to play her cards right, differently, this time now that she was older.
“Yes Daecha,” Archie replied with a raised eyebrow, looking up from his journal.
“Are you truly gaining sway with the council?”
“Of course little sister, besides, clearly the court is willing to overlook your....incident since they are letting you attend after all these years,” he pauses then says with a smirk, “A surprise given the fact that Vasa has tried and failed to seduce every lord’s daughter under the age of 30, I certainly wouldn’t forgive him,” he said with a rare smile.
“Is that a joke I hear Archie?”
“Don’t expect it to become a regular occurrence.”
Vasa gave a brown, doe-eyed wink and a dazzling smile in response. His auburn hair glinting in the sunrise.
As their caravan finally passes across the moat and into the circle of bony trees that stood before the looming castle. Guards stood waiting, holding open the door for the young group of siblings.
Daecha could feel the castle’s judgement even before they met any eyes. Her family is not exactly well respected, and while Archie and Vasa had gotten the brunt of the discrimination, it still hurt every time her brothers game home weary and downcast with stories of the cruelty of court.
The Coventry's Father was part of a small group of believers within Boenan who believed the land had turned away from the people causing their extreme poverty and never-ending sickness. He is a believer in the supernatural, the scientifically impossible. According to Archie, he is currently in the northern continent searching for proof that there is some magical solution to Boenan’s problems. Daecha hasn’t seen him in almost five years.
As the carriage finally comes to a stop in front of the palace, her thoughts turn to the looming opulence of the structure in front of her which no mortal man could ignore. Daecha nearly gasps at the delicate arches and monstrous towers. It seemingly goes on for miles, it’s expanse noted by travelers far and wide. She’d forgotten this. Forgotten the feeling of power and helplessness all somehow combined into one.
Vasa and Daecha walk in, two steps behind their brother, the siblings slowly making their way down the gold flecked stone walls and the banners and portraits that lined them. It seems as though nothing has changed.
Nearing the end of the hallway, she steadys her mind and smoothes a wrinkle in her burgundy dress. She could act the part of repenting subject for this first night.
The grand doors opened, revealing the blinding light of the enormous throne room and the dozens of nobles assembled. A few turned to murmur as Daecha and her family descended the staircase into the snake pit, all no doubt whispering lies about their allegiance.
“It matters not what they think,” Vasa whispers to her with a reassuring smile, “They’re just jealous that you're friends with the king.”
She tried to return the smile but failed as she caught sight of her friend on the dias in front of her.
Despite being king for five years now, his red hair is curly as ever, freckles just the way she left them, tunic slightly ruffled from the early morning, although his square jawline had become a little bit sharper. Daecha had a hard time maintaining her bow as she approached the dias, slightly shaking with both fear and anticipation.
The courtroom hushed, waiting for the king’s response towards the newly returned female. Daecha could’ve sworn she heard a pin drop in the long moments of bowing. No skirts rustled, no lords whispered, no children cried. All eyes were on the king and Daecha.
After a few seconds she looked up, suddenly scared that she might find a stone cold king and not the carefree boy she grew up with, but as she dared glance up, all she could see was a giant grin on King Astley’s face as he casually sips a substance that looks suspiciously like wine, despite the early morning, from his chalice.
Daecha returned his grin, the tension in her shoulders easing a bit as her worst fears were cast out. This was still the boy she knew, despite being nineteen years old and spending years subjected to the scrutiny of court.
As she, Archie, and Vasa step forward to kiss the king's ring, Astley slowly rises from his throne. If the court wasn’t silent before, it most certainly was now. Daecha’s thoughts run wild, worried that perhaps the smile was not a smile of friendship but a smile between predator and prey. She holds her breath right along with the rest of the court as she waits for him to speak.
“Daecha, my darling Daecha,” Astley exclaims, words slightly slurred and crown slightly crooked, “How I’ve missed you so! Dance, sing, drink, be merry,” he calls to his court, raising his arms, “the Coventrys have returned!”
A lively tune begins to play and the tension releases from the room as the noble obey their young king as he pulls the Coventrys aside, grinning from ear to ear.
“Daecha, do tell me everything! Life here has been completely and utterly boring. All I do is go to meetings and attend court all day while you’ve been traipsing about the countryside without a care in the world. My how I’ve longed for your company all these years, it has been excruciating without you,” he says.
“My goodness I forgot how much you talk,” Daecha laughs, returning back to her old habits of teasing her friend, “and how loud too.”
“Whatever do you mean dear one? If you mean to imply that I talk too much you must simply tell me, after all I have no one to talk to ever so you should forgive me if I am a bit excitable, however I do not think that my talking is too awfully excessive, do you? And as for the volume of my voice I’m afraid that is something I simply cannot control as the blasted lords and dukes and ladies of this court seem to have deemed it fit to talk my ears off on a daily basis.”
“Oh Astley I’ve missed you,” Daecha says with a laugh, embracing him and breathing in his polished scent of vanilla and sandalwood
“Well I am quite sure we will have more than enough time to make up for these lost six years, why, we have our entire lives ahead of us to spend together, just as when we were children.”
“Oh yes, I’m sure your sister will be pleased about that.”
“Adira can go rot in the dungeons for all I care, today shall be our day and nothing will stop me, not even my hag of an older sister.”
Daecha rolls her eyes as Astley turns to her brothers.
“Do tell me Archie, how are things at the Coventry estate? Any word from Lord Coventry?”
“No,” Archie says with a grimace, “our father is still pursuing other ventures although he does send gifts from abroad from time to time, especially to Daecha.”
“Ah, truly darling Daecha could snare any man with that crooked smile and lovely brown hair. Too bad I have a thing for blondes,” Astley says with a wink and another sip from his cup. “And Vasa,” he continues, “do tell me what you fill your time with these days. I feel I have not heard any news of you recently. How do you as a second son occupy your time?”
“Oh it’s nothing truly interesting, just sports, females, and refreshments.”
“Bah that can’t possibly be true. Besides, it must be more interesting than my poor old chap of a younger brother. Anson hasn’t been seen outside of the library for at least a week. Why, I think he may have even moved a small cot there. I worry about that boy, not half as much as dear old Adira though, she practically slaps everytime she sees him reading those silly little tales he’s entertained with. No matter though, he truly has no real responsibilities anyways.”
Daecha smiled to herself, questioning what she’d been worried about. This was no vipers nest, no pit of terror, this was simply her friend's home to which was invited to.
Suddenly, that unnatural silence filled the courtroom again. She wasn’t sure what was wrong this time. Her and her brothers were already the last ones to enter as it was far beyond sunrise and the weekly grand court assembly would begin any minute. With a start she realized that they were looking up towards the balcony where there now stood two of the most beautiful girls she’d ever seen, one looking like she was going to murder someone with piercing gray eyes, the other simply looking bored as she fiddled with a loose braid.
“Who is that,” she whispered to Astley
“Great scots, Daecha, it can’t be…” he said, trailing off.
“Can’t be? Can’t be who?”
“It’s Cecily Gregale. She hasn’t been to court since, well, ever. Her mother died when she was young and her father abandoned them to pursue the Tiraians in the north. I wasn’t even sure if she was still alive. Rumor had it she went mad but, you know, that was a rumor.”
Archie stiffens beside her, eyes unmoving from the balcony. Vasa is equally as entranced as the rest of the court, eyes fixed on the nonchalant one who is presently fervently whispering into her friend's ear.
“What does this even mean? Why is it such a big deal?” Daecha asks.
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Astley answers, “Nobody ever thought she’d attend, what with her being a female and the last of her line. The only reason to come would be to find a suitor but won’t have any real political standing or sway. The rumors of her madness were terrible, and when I tried to send guards to her estate to see if there was anything to be done, they always said the gates were closed and it seemed as if no one was home.”
As Daecha looks fully up at the two young women, she makes eye contact with the blonde one, Cecily, and is surprised to see her attention focused fully on her, those stormy gray eyes seemingly staring into her very soul. A sudden chill runs through Daecha leaving her feeling cold as she reaches for a cloak to keep out the draft.
Cecily is too late. She’s too late. She had one mission, one purpose, and she was already failing.
Lillia sent her a steady, cool glance, warning her to stay calm. The plan could still work, it would simply be more complicated now. They couldn’t simply befriend the girl and persuade her to their cause anymore, no, the entire court had seen her and welcomed her with open arms, heck, the king had been embracing her. This would require infinitely more precision and planning. Their hope for an easy safeguard had been snatched.
As if reading her thoughts, Lillia quietly and quickly expressed the new plan she’d somehow already formulated.
“I’ll ride back out into town to see the others and give them the information after we are both acknowledged and court is concluded for the day. You stay here and get acquainted with the castle and see if you can glean any more information at lunch or dinner and see if your...informants can tell you anything,” she said nervously glancing around, “just don’t do anything to raise suspicion. Or anything stupid.”
“I can take care of myself, you know.”
“Sure, sure. I definitely believe that. It’s not like I sent to your house specifically to make sure you don’t go completely rogue.” she said with an almost feline grin that would send most running.
Cecily rolls her eyes in response as they are slowly ushered down the stairs towards the boy king.
To Cecily, King Astley looks as though he could squashed like a bug. His skinny limbs, excessive drinking, and loose mouth make him quite possibly the easiest target in history. Not to mention his age and inexperience. Honestly she’s surprised there haven’t been any assassination attempts yet. It’s only a matter of time.
She realizes she’s been scowling as she surveys the court, but she can’t help but be a little delighted by their frightened faces. Her father may not have been good for much but he did have a hostile resting face, one he conveniently passed on to her.
At last they’ve reached the dias in front of the king and she gives a dramatic bow. Beside her, Lillia is, as usual, the epitome of grace.
King Astley looks pale when she looks up. He reaches up to dab at a bead of sweat forming at his crown as he goes to speak.
“Rise Lady Gregale. Who is your companion?”
“I am Lady Lillia Giza, your majesty. I am an ambassador from Abiona. I have been staying with the gracious Lady Gregale to learn more about your magnificent country.”
“Very well then. I hope you find your stay here pleasant. Both of you.”
He looks as if he is about to say something else when a man Cecily knows to be Lord Dashnell and the king’s right hand whispers something in his ear. Astley frowns but says nothing more to the girls and takes another big gulp from his chalice.
Cecily already knows the girl has been watching them since the moment they burst through the doors. Excellent. She glances at Lillia and they both make their way towards the Coventry family, however, just as they reach them, Lord Dashnell announces that court will be commenced and all of the gentlewomen and children must make their way out of the room.
“Curse these stupid traditions,” murmers Cecily as they are forced to leave and are evidently seperated from the girl.
“I have to leave Cecily. The Dolions are awaiting news on the infiltration. It’s up to you to get her to us.”
“I’ll do my best.”
And with that Lillia slipped into the shadows despite the sun hanging high in the sky.
Alone, Cecily seeks out a maid to see her to a room and listens for whispers of wind to tell her where the girl is staying. After a minute she hears an answer.
Third floor. Second room.
“Pardon me, maid?” Cecily asks, trying to act as innocent and naive as possible, “Might you show me to a room? And could you make it on the third floor? You see, the last time I was here, my mother and I stayed on the third floor and it would just make me feel so close to her.”
“Of course my Lady. I’ll see what I can do.”
And with that, the plan has been righted. Cecily smiles and lets the wind run through her platinum blonde hair for a second as it whispers secrets of court in her ears.
With Cecily finally settled into her room, she got to work drafting letters to members of the Dolions across the continent informing them of their progress. They’d decided she shouldn’t see the girl today so as not to seem too desperate and give themselves away, so she took this time to plan and see if she could gather any more information. The wind, however, was surprisingly silent.
“Blast you. On the one day I’m here and have nothing to do you say nothing yet I’m sure tomorrow when I’m running around you’ll be chattering away,” she mutters to it.
“You have nothing to say? Nothings happening? Anywhere? Goodness, I don't believe I can sit here for another second.”
“That’s it I’m leaving.”
She tried not to be annoyed. This never happened at the estate, the wind was always murmuring about this or that, teasing her and caressing her. The silence was uncomfortable in this palace of stone.
Unable to stay still for too long and in need of a new quill, Cecily makes her way through the castle in search of the library. Court was still in session, despite several hours having passed, no doubt prolonged by her and Lillia's arrival today.
After making a few wrong turns and exploring a few hallways she made her way to the fifth floor library. There weren’t any librarians there so she’d just have to rifle through some drawers and risk their wrath should they return. Maybe if the darned wind would say something she
wouldn’t have to but no such luck.
Just as she was about to give up and go back to her stifling room of silence she hears the distant sound of a book drop and then a yelp. She hadn’t thought anyone was here.
“You could have at least said something,” she hisses at the wind.
She quietly creeps towards the corner and is surprised to find a small set of stairs winding up towards a secluded tower. Odd. This is the only place she hasn’t searched so they must be up here.
Silently ascending upwards, she curled a ball of wind around her fingers, not sure what she would find here. All of the men were at court so she honestly isn’t sure what to expect.
After climbing about 16 steps up, the stairwell opens up to a small circular room filled with unique curved bookshelves, pillows and cushions, a small table, and a dark haired blue eyed teenage boy sitting with his back turned to her.
All she blurted was, “Who the heck are you?”
The boy practically jumped out of skin, square glasses falling off his face into...was that a bowl of potato crisps? He turned to face her, looking as shocked as her.
“I could ask the same of you.” He retorted, then a second later finished with, “my lady.”
“Well seeing as you should probably be at court with the other men I feel my question overpowers yours."
They both definitely stare at each other.
“Goodness stop looking at me like that, I’ll talk, I’ll talk,” he replied. “I’d have you know that I am Prince Anson, and I usually am not this grumpy but I’m afraid you have interrupted my reading time so if I could kindly ask you to leave, please and thank you.”
A slow smile that could no doubt rival Lillia’s in cunning spread across Cecily’s face. So this was Prince Anson. The source of all the royal family’s troubles. The reason Astley had been so nervous she was back. The Gregale family knew their little secret, a secret so well guarded, Anson himself didn’t even know. Her smugness didn’t last long, however, as she looked back up at his now sour face.
“My gosh, is your reading time that precious?” she egged on, “Shouldn’t you be doing something more important like, I don’t know, perhaps going to court like every other male here?”
“Look, you’re clearly new here, Lady...whatever your name is, so just go away and forget this ever happened. My crisps will become stale by the time you leave.”
She rolls her eyes at him and continues to survey the room. For some reason he has an odd miniature fountain sitting on his side table bubbling up then cycling through the bottom to be reused the next time. Man this kid is weird. The only other furniture in his odd little loft area is a portrait of a man she didn’t know and bedpan.
“This is disgusting, not even going to lie to you Prince Anson,” she says with a wrinkle in her nose.
“Yeah well nobody’s supposed to come up here so bye.”
“Don’t you want to get my name to see me again later,” she says, batting her eyelashes dramatically.
“Out,” he replies as he pops a potato crisp in his mouth, re-adjusts his glasses, and picks his book back up.
“Well this certainly wasn’t what I expected,” she says to herself as she walks back down the staircase and finally hears the wind murmur to her.
Fourth drawer down, the northwest corner
“So now you answer,” she says and stomps over to finally retrieve her quill.
As she makes her way back to her room, she expects the wind to begin it’s usual rambling, however it stays silent yet again.