Cardan, taunted by Jude, activated a magical stone called The stone of future past.
|Fae folk were whispering devilish secrets, whispering, because if it were an insult directed at us, the mortal twins, they would have spit it out, as if a toad had been stuck in their throats, and only vile things could possibly help them get free.
My name is Jude Duarte. My twin, Taryn, and I are often the subject of ridicule among the pampered nobility. How I hate them, my very bones hate them, and I sometimes wish I were like them. Can you blame me? They are as cruel as they are beautiful, as powerful as I am weak. Yet there is one thing which they cannot copy, one very secret thing that I am proud of, in a strange way. I can lie, and they can't, to save their lives. Such are the fae folk, fickle, devilish, cruel yet honest to a fault.
The youngest prince of the fairy realm, Cardan Greenbriar, would surely have made a sensational addition to scientific research, were they to vivisect him. Such a lovely thought! Why am I feeling such treasonous thoughts about a member of the ruling house of Elfhaime? Trust me, if you knew Cardan Greenbriar, you would want to watch him get vivisected also. I wouldn't for one second feel mercy…I think?
He is more than a rotten apple, disinterested in his studies, and fascinated by petty cruelty, often directed towards Taryn and I, I can say wholeheartedly that I take pride in defying him, despite Taryn's warnings. Humiliating him with my defiance makes me feel alive, electric, like I am flying, and I know, it is a bit foolish because the power rests in his hands, but honestly, I don't care.
It wasn't enough that he threw dirt on our food, he had to play the little nixie 'prank' by the river. We could have been nixie chow! And for what, to bask in his supposed superiority?! The only thing he's superior at is being a royal pain in the arse.
But enough about him, I need to concentrate on my lessons. I often feel my thoughts linger on him without my permission. It's strange. Our teacher, Noggle has brought us a beautiful jewel the size of a diamond. I immediately recognized it, the stone of future past. It is almost a thing of the legends, so it must have been hard to acquire from the palace treasury, with king Eldred's permission of course, as a sort of show and tell for our class today. I heard many things about it from Madoc, our adopted father and slayer of my biological mother and father, whom I love yet can't forgive.
"Now children, who can tell me what this is?" Noggle asked.
"Well Noggle, this such a hard question. Let's see, a stone," Cardan said in a flat tone.
Nicasia, one of his groupies began to giggle sickeningly like a true sycophant. She always tells us that we'll never be like them, and I ought to concur, I'll never be that braindead.
Noggle sighed "What sort of stone, my prince?"
"A small, red one" Locke, Cardan's trickster friend answered, his fox eyes twinkling.
"No-" the teacher began to say.
"Is it not small?" Locke questioned, while the teacher looked perplexed.
"Is it not red?" Locke continued to ask playfully.
"This is not the answer I'm looking for!" Noggle shouted, a bit indignant and exasperated with everyone.
"This is boring. Change the lesson!" Cardan ordered while yawning.
"It is the stone of future past, professor. It is rumored to be able to bring people from the future to their past lives, by uttering the words "I command you, open!", by the worthy members of the royal family, and only them. The consequences to bringing people back to their past are dire." I said, taking pity on the professor.
"Thank you, Jude. As usual, you are correct." Noggle responded with a proud smile on his lips.
"Yes, praise the mortal, it's not like it'll live long enough to have any impact on our world," Cardan's other 'charming' friend, Valerian, said, calling me an it. Taryn took hold of my hand.
"At least I have reasons to get praised, and not admonishment," I answered bravely, only for Valerian to throw me a murderous look and for Taryn to whisper in my ear "Be careful, Jude,"
"Enough!" Noggle said.
"I demand you change the lesson!" Cardan yelled like a petulant child and in the end Noggle dropped his head subserviently and responded, "Yes, my prince."
I couldn't stand it. Another lesson interrupted because His Childishness couldn't stomach an interesting subject. Before he could command the class and Mr. Noggle to begin an open discussion about the faery orgies or the secret properties of elvish wine, I began laughing and told him "I bet you only want to change our lesson because you're embarrassed, that you are the only one in your family not worthy of activating the stone of present past!"
"How dare you, imbecilic mortal! Your foolish words are not worthy of my princely splendor. I shall prove you wrong at once!" he told me between gritted teeth before getting out of his seat, taking the stone of future past from our teacher's shaking hands and saying "I command you, open!"
At first, nothing happened, and I was fully prepared to laugh at his misfortune until the stone started to shake in his hands, a bright, blinding light enveloped the room and when it finally subsided there were too Cardans in the room, except one of them was the insufferable pest that goes to classes with me every day and one of them was taller, built with more muscle, there was the blood crown on his head, and he was actually smiling at me.
The older Cardan took a look at the stone in his younger version's hand, raised an elegant eyebrow, then stared down at his younger counterpart, unimpressed. This is the best day ever! Unfortunately I just now realized that Cardan must be king of Elfhaime in the future, and I suddenly feared for all of us.
King Cardan's eyes instantaneously found mine's. He smirked charismatically, walked to where I was sitting on the fluffy pillows on the floor, took my right hand in his, kissed it, and said "My darling Jude."
I remained mute, stunned into silence for precious seconds which might as well have been an eternity. Future Cardan just pressed his moist, warm lips on my hand. I suddenly feel lightheaded, overwhelmed yet terrifyingly …nice? Like how I feel when I hold Mr. Hiss to my chest for comfort after a particularly bad nightmare or when Madoc praises one of my tactical maneuvers and draws me into a hug. But this is Cardan we're talking about, future self or not. I must be under some sort of spell or this could most likely be a trap. I wouldn't put it past him!
His black eyes stared right into my soul, and if I stared right back into the inky abyss, I could see a ring of gold around the pupils. Mica gold, enthralling, drawing me in. His light pink lips were turned up mischievously yet in his eyes I could only perceive tenderness.
I took a look at everyone around me, searching for a way out of this, peculiar situation. Professor Noggle was speechless, taking hold of his teaching desk like a lifeline, most likely wondering how he will explain all of this to king Eldred. Nicasia looked miffed, disbelieving, and was that jealousy on her bratty, stuck-up face? There must be a silver lining to every situation. Locke looked amused and Valerian seemed to not be able to compute what was happening, almost as if his brain had been replaced with the cortex from a species of narrow-minded baboons. Nothing out of the ordinary then.
Taryn looked scared, I immediately felt like reassuring her that I am alright and holding her tightly, but I did not want to expose what would be perceived as weakness to exploit around younger Cardan and his merry crew of degenerates.
And speaking of Cardan, he was looking spooked, like someone had just informed him he had a rare disease which will render him mortal in a matter of days. I couldn't help my smile. King Cardan noticed it, he looked at his younger self, snorted lightly then said in my ear "Beautiful Jude, want to blow his mind?"
I nodded tersely. He smirked then locked his lips with mine, and I felt like I was the one with the blown mind. My eyes widened, my heart kept pumping faster and faster, like a rabbit about to be cornered by a cunning fox. He tasted like sugared violets, my favorite.
"What in the name of Queen Mab are you doing?" younger Cardan asked in a shrill, very offended voice.
King Cardan deepened the kiss, slowly turned around, faced his younger version, and declared "Kissing my future, darling wife. What does it look like I'm doing?"
"You can't! I-We…She's a lowly mortal! And we hate her! Remember?!" younger Cardan inquired while the class, including the teacher, was watching the scene enraptured. The only thing that was missing was the equivalent of human popcorn.
"Yeah, remember?" I challenged too, before I suddenly realized a very important word in his love proclamations "Wait, wife?"
"Yes, my sweet nemesis. That's usually what a woman gets called when they have a husband whom they marry," King Cardan teased, talking to me as if I were a small child, not capable of understanding simple facts like marriage and titles.
"And what are you called, Cardan? The wicked king?" I shot back, furiously.
"You flatter me, Jude. Making a name just for me," he cooed with a ridiculous smile on his face "Calling me husband will suffice."
"Never!" I cried outraged.
"That's like saying forever!" both Cardans responded, the younger one in a mocking tone that the older one seemed to lack.
"My prin-err king," Noggle said, hoping only for a second, that he had not committed treason by calling future Cardan king while Eldred was still very much ruling, "Allow me to escort you to your father, he might find a way to solve the situation."
I suddenly remembered the dire consequences of bringing people from the future to the past. They could change the entire fabric of time, by revealing facts about the future, and the entire timeline could become one twisted gordian knot.
Oh, no! What if king Eldred finds out Cardan used the stone because of my uhm… unfriendly encouragement. What will Madoc say?
Seeing my distress, future Cardan went to my side, sat on a nearby, pink, fluffy pillow, posture relaxed and carefree while he drew me into a hug, which I tried to fight against, but he was stronger than me and smelled of lilacs. He made soothing noises as he ran his hand up and down my back.
"I won't let my grouchy father punish you my sweet, little wife. Trust me," he whispered in my ear.
It was strange but, I felt myself relax a little.
I nodded, wanting him to let me go, while still not trusting him in the least. In fact, I would have slapped him for not letting go of me, but the teacher was in the room and he would most likely tell my dad, or worse, Oriana.
He let go of me, put his hand on younger Cardan who was previously getting consoled by Nicasia for apparently "having failed in life so much to have married me". They went in tow to king Elder's throne room, along with professor Noggle who made me a sign to sit up and follow them. Taryn threw me a longing look but did not follow.
'Don't think about punishment. Don't think about punishment. Don't even think about punishment.' Were the thoughts racing inside my head which quickly changed their tune to "Just blame Cardan. He's always at fault."
We entered the opulent throne room, king Eldred looking at us with an air of benevolence yet when his eyes found younger Cardan's he began to look disdainful and superior.
"My unworthy youngest, what problems have you sown now?" he asked briskly yet in a voice that would have betrayed longsuffering. I suddenly felt uncomfortable. Wasn't Eldred supposed to love his children, yet here he was insulting Cardan to his face and in company.
"My faultless father," older Cardan said in a dry, snide tone that almost masked all his bitterness, "I was sent here by my younger version when he activated the stone of future past."
"What possessed you, boy?" Eldred asked in a quiet, deadly tone.
"Jude Duarte made me do it, father. It's all her fault!" younger Cardan exclaimed in a pitiful, frightened manner and I couldn't help but feel pity and simmering anger, although it was true, I did instigate him.
"Your Majesty, I, I…" I began to say, looking for an explanation that might get me off the hook, but I was tongue-tied and afraid.
"Honestly father, they are just children who had bitten off more than they can chew. We should think about a solution to bring me back to the future, not punish children for acting like children" future Cardan told Eldred while rolling his eyes, yet the king ignored him.
"Jude Duarte-" the king, Eldred, began to say and my knees went weak before he was interrupted by future Cardan " Is the most wonderful, smart, courageous women in the entire realm, and my wife, so thread carefully, father."
My cheeks felt warm.
"Why should I listen to you boy?" Eldred addressed king Cardan, looking him straight in the eye, no doubt like he thought he was talking to the same pretentious, winy little version of Cardan.
Future Cardan smiled and said "Because, Father, if you had not noticed yet, and I blame this entirely on your rapidly approaching old age, I am king in the future."
"A fact which can be easily remedied" Eldred threatened.
"And as per the direst, sacred laws of queen Mab, our ancestor, laws which every fae must respect lest they risk one of her eternal curses upon the realm, 'if one of your future heirs appears because of the stone of future past, he shall be treated with the respect he deserves, according to the power he may possess, and if it may happen, rule alongside the current king, if his status is befitting such a role."
"You wouldn't want to disobey the sacred laws which bind us all, now would you father?" he asked, all teeth.
Eldred looked furious and impressed at the same time.
"Very well, deplorable spawn of mine, at least in the future you seem to be knowledgeable of some essential affairs," Eldred said gruffly.
"Tell me, Cardan, how did you end up king?" he asked, curiosity eating up at his insides.
"Now father, you know the rules. No revealing the future," King Cardan answered then took mine and prince Cardan's hands without so much as a goodbye, and dragged us out of the throne room.
I can't believe it. I escaped unpunished.
He was dragging us back to the class room, a quirky smile on his face, like it had been an immense pleasure to disrespect king Eldred.
The younger Cardan was awed by his performance...figures the only person he would respect is himself.
His hold on my hand was tight but not too tight, and his hands were warm. His onix orbs were glittering, they turned to me for a second, I could see fondness in them.
Then he abruptly stopped, acted all serious and said "You should not have turned on each other in the throne room. When the stakes are against you, you have to show an united front".
He lectured as if he were Mr. Noggle instead, or Madoc. I scoffed.
"He's the one who blamed it all on me,"
"And the problem with that is...?" Prince Cardan trailed off while inspecting his fingernails for dirt.
King Cardan sighed and said, "My sweet nemesis, you have my deepest apologies for how insufferable I used to be."
His younger version looked affronted while I simply snorted entertained.
On our way to the classroom, Mr. Noggle caught up with us. King Cardan looked at him kindly in the eye and said "Professor, if I could ask you for a small favor, in private."
"Y-yes, of course, my King," he answered nervously while telling younger Cardan and myself to go back to class.
"In the meantime try not to murder me, my love," older Cardan cooed at me.
"No promises," I muttered.
After they left, I ignored the eerie quiet and tried to enter inside the palace classroom, when a masculine, forceful hand grabbed mine in a vice-like grip. I struggled but could not free my hand.
It was younger Cardan, a wicked grin on his face.
"Well, well, little mortal, had I known where your affections lie, I would have used them to humiliate you sooner. Now be a good little mortal wife and kiss my feet," he said in a disgusting, sickeningly-sweet yet venomous voice.
"No thanks, I'd probably catch something," I answered him defiantly.
"I could ensorcell you to do it, you know?" he said taking pleasure in seeing me struggle internally.
"It's the only way you could actually get a girl to kiss you, Cardan!" I yelled at him, despite the danger I found myself in and instantly regretted it when he started smiling. He dragged me to class, everyone was looking at us.
"Jude Duarte, tell us your real feelings about me," he ensorcelled.
Taryn tried to intervene but Locke stepped in front of her and didn't let her help me out.
Without wanting to, I started talking "I hate you, I hate you most of all. Sometimes I hate you so much that, when I look at you, I can hardly breathe."
"Isn't that interesting?" he asked with a self-satisfied smirk.
"You're a coward!" I spat out and anger flashed in his eyes.
"And whyever do you think that?" Cardan hissed, eyes like black coals.
"You are too scared to play fair, knowing that I will defeat you," I responded confidently.
"You, defeat Cardan? Don't make me laugh!" Nicasia butted in.
"Shall we test that theory, then? At the next blood moon, when our imminent exam takes place, the one about the history of Elfhame and the properties of magical herbs, we shall see if you are truly right." Prince Cardan said.
"Name your price," I gritted out.
"If you win, and score better than I then your point would have been made. However, if I win then you owe me...a kiss. A show of adoration for your prince."
"No," I answered.
"No?" he asked.
"If I win, you and your cohorts leave Taryn and I alone, for the rest of the school year, at least. And no ensorcelling me to fail, or other dirty tricks to manipulate or hurt me," I tell him, expectantly.
He nodded and asked, all teeth "Do we have a deal?"
"Deal", I answered and shook his hand.
"This is turning fun," Locke said, glad at the turn of events.
At that moment, Mr. Noggle and King Cardan entered the class.
"Children, our future king will take part in our classes from now on," Mr Noggle said.
My luck was just getting worse.
Seeing my sullen face, older Cardan walked to where I was and whispered "Who hurt you, my love?"
He lifted my chin with his hands and I couldn't help but see Cardan's smug look from behind him. I glared furiously.
"Ah," king Cardan answered then he let go, threw me a reassuring look, and took younger Cardan's hand in his. He dragged him a bit away after saying "Resume the lessons, professor."
He wispered something in his ear, all I could make out was the word letter, and Jude.
He immediately blushed. If only I knew how to exploit that.
Noggle continued his lesson, and I struggled to take notes with one Cardan glaring at me and the other smiling.
At the end of the lesson, younger Cardan came to me and asked "Ready?"
"For what?" I demanded, feeling curious.
"As my future queen, you are expected to live with me, are you not?" he said, lifting an elegant eyebrow.
"I-I thought you hated this!" I stuttered "We hate this, remember?I don't need to go with you!"
"And lose a chance to torment you?" younger Cardan said.
"What he meant was that he could not waste another moment alone instead of gazing at your beautiful face, my queen," older Cardan spoke, glaring sternly at his younger counterpart.
"And worry not, my darling god, you shall not go with us quite yet," he said to the despair of younger Cardan.
"Good," Taryn and I said at the same time, then turned around to look at one another.
"We will go to your abode," king Cardan said calmly.
What could Cardan want to do in my house?
We went outside the castle, Taryn took my hand and said "I can't believe you married Cardan."
"You and me both", I answered while throwing a suspicious look at both versions of Cardan who walked leisurely.
Prince Cardan scoffed "The real question, mortal, is why I chose someone as disgusting us you."
"Disgusting?" I asked affronted then pointed out "You're the one with a tail?"
"Which works in my favor. Maybe I finally taught you some respect in the future," he mused.
"Maybe I kissed the evil out of you," I retorted and me, Taryn and older Cardan began to laugh.
He tried to grab my shirt with his fist and draw me closer, probably to threaten me when older Cardan took a hold of his hand and squeezed it painfully. Had he not intervened I would have kicked younger Cardan in the family jewels and his possible blood heirs would have become a mere fantasy.
"Ow! What was that for?" he asked in a whiny voice.
"Don't even think of hurting Jude. She's mine," King Cardan answered, fire in his eyes.
"I belong to no one but myself!" I declared in a stubborn voice.
"But of course, little villain," older Cardan answered in a placating tone, like a mother telling their tantruming child that of course, they can have ice cream for dinner. That grated on me!
"You know what your problem is?" younger Cardan asked his future counterpart "You let her walk all over you."
"Oh, I assure you, Jude is not always in control," he said then flashed me a look full of lust.
Younger Cardan understood and couldn't help but ask, while licking his lips " Is she a good lover? Does she scream our name raw like so many others did before?"
"Your partners screamed?" I asked shocked "They must have gotten quite a suprise when they tried to find your snake appendage...and couldn't find it."
"Jude!" Taryn reprimanded me.
"Would you like to find it for yourself?" Cardan asked, a strange glint in his eye.
"I'd probably need a map to locate that..." I kept saying, while rolling my eyes.
"Enough! Cease bickering endlessly, children." King Cardan commanded while younger Cardan stuck his tongue at me. I stuck mine right back.
We reached Madoc's Stronghold. As we entered, Tatterfell saw the prince and bowed.
"Prince Cardan, how unexpected and..."
She looked at the older Cardan who was wearing the blood crown on his royal, head.
Things like these were rare, but not unheard of in Elfhame.
"Tatterfell, could you bring Madoc here for me, please?" older Cardan asked, but it would have been obvious which one of them asked because the word please was used in the sentence.
A minute later, general Madoc, my father, entered. He was an imposing figure, with cunning to resemble a fox and enough brute force to be considered an enemy to be reckoned with. His eyes searched mine, he always does that when he expects me to tell the situation, knowing Taryn would get overwhelmed. I tried to speak but older Cardan spoke before I could get the chance.
"General, there was an accident today in your daughters' class."
"Are you alright?" Madoc asked, looking at me and then at Taryn.
I nodded but tried not to look at him so that I would not see the disappointment that was sure to be there when he found out about my hand in today's events.
"Prince Cardan used the stone of future past, at the insistence of your darling daughter, Jude" older Cardan said.
Madoc sighed "Daughter, what did I tell you about the stone?"
"Not to use it unless it's necessary" I responded in a small voice, remembering.
"Precisely" Madoc answered, "It should be used for commendable reasons, like winning a war, or finding out things about your future cleverly, without destroying the fabric of time."
"What sort of important things? Taryn asked.
" Like who you're going to be married to, for example. So that I can have a little chat with them" Madoc said smiling widely, his pointy teeth showing.
"It just so happens that this incident falls under one of your necessities, general." older Cardan said confidently while younger Cardan tried not to be intimidated by Madoc, and failed.
"Or should I say, father-in-law?" older Cardan asked, and Madoc's eyes widened.