Frau Gothel is playing the long game, unlike most witches. Instead of eating the children she steals, she brings them up as Princesses. She is waiting for the Princes that she knows will come to rescue the girls. After all, mother of the Queen is a profit filled occupation. Everything is in place for two weddings by the end of the year. But she fails to take love into consideration in her plans...
Princesses Lavayne and Eirian wait in their towers, alone but for the spirits of the forest, for Princes Emred and Jasper. They know they'll love whoever comes to rescue them. It's destiny. Isn't it?
Lavayne watched the fire for a moment, leaning back against a tree.
“So, who’s going first?”
No response forthcoming, Lavayne began.
“In a time before I remember, my father was King of a great land across the sea. But his brother was jealous of him, and murdered him, taking his kingdom. My mother managed to take me from our rightful kingdom, before I could be killed in turn. She found a tower in the forest, and she brought me up there. As I grew older, she travelled away more and more to try to find allies. But, there appears to be little hope of regaining my kingdom.”
As Lavayne spoke, Eirian’s eyes widened more and more, and suddenly she couldn’t quite breathe. She didn’t know what to think. It was too much of a coincidence to be that, there had to be some connection between the two of them. Each detail of their stories matched perfectly. She was snatching at gasps of air, and Jasper looked at her worried. Then, he realised what she was thinking, gasping himself.
“Are we smoking you out?” Emred joked, “You look like drowning fishes!”
“That’s my story.” Eirian’s voice was expressionless, unable to comprehend. “Everything that you just said, it happened to me. It’s as if you were reading my mind.”
Lavayne was lost for words.
“I can assure you, I wasn’t. It’s the truth.”
Emred frowned. Then he had an idea.
“It’s too strange that two Kings across the sea would be murdered by their brothers, and that their widows would happen to find sanctuary in the same forest. Perhaps… Eirian, could you tell us what your mother looks like?”
“She’s the loveliest person you could imagine. Her hair is red, but with a few grey streaks, and completely straight. She’s tall, but curvy with it. She has the most amazing eyes – they are so full of life and love and something else that I can’t quite place.”
“Magic. They’re filled with magic.”
“Yes! How did you know?”
Lavayne’s smile could almost be mistaken for being sarcastic.
“Because she’s my mother too.”
“See!” Emred clapped his hands together. “A simple explanation. You’re sisters, and your mother didn’t tell you about each other for her own reasons. Perhaps, she wanted to protect you.”
“Sisters…” Eirian breathed the word, as if it were sacred. She reached out her hands for Lavayne’s and found them, squeezing them.
The idea of having a sister was still a novelty to Eirian and Lavayne as they eat their rabbit an hour later. They sat next to each other. Eirian kept catching Lavayne’s eye and smiling. Lavayne made the effort to smile back. She really liked Eirian. She was very charismatic, and Lavayne found herself sucked further and further into Eirian’s world, and she didn’t mind in the slightest. Eirian was so thoughtful and caring, even in superficial conversation, that Lavayne enjoyed her company more than even Emred’s. In that one hour, Eirian had trusted Lavayne with the details of her childhood, her forest spirit friends, her favourite pastimes, her earliest memories; and Lavayne had found herself opening up too. She realised that, despite herself, she was enjoying having a sister.
Though it was early days yet. And she should not grow to rely on Eirian’s friendship too much, they would only separate soon.
Jasper leant forwards on his sword, the point sticking into the ground.
“Story time. You or I, Emred?”
Emred waved his hand dismissively,
“You can begin.”
“So, in Eluvette, we have a custom where the princes must go on some sort of quest, to prove themselves, when they come of age. The quest of the princess in the tower was brought to me by an old witch, and I accepted it. I had to rescue the beautiful, mysterious princess, Princess Eirian.” He stood up, wandering over to where she sat, pulling her up, and holding her hand, kissing it almost possessively. “And here I am, ready to take her home to Loran, to make her my wife.”
Eirian smiled, reaching up to kiss Jasper’s cheek.
“And I thank you for it, my prince.”
It was odd. Lavayne noticed something in Eirian that changed, transmuted, when Jasper took her hand. It was as if her eyes clouded over, and her voice retreated. It was much prettier when she had been talking to Lavayne. It just sounded weak, and ridiculous now. Lavayne frowned.
“My turn, then!” Emred jumped to his feet, walking over to the fire, warming his hands over it. “Well, my father and I have been trying for many years to scry into the forest. But all we had seen was blurred green. And then, we were sent a vision of Lavayne’s tower. I did not know who she was, or even if she was safe. So I journeyed to find out more.”
He looked directly at Lavayne. She looked back, unsmiling, frank. Something within Emred hardened, twisting in response to the challenge.
“I have not asked Lavayne to marry me yet.” There was emphasis on the yet, and Eirian grinned at Lavayne, hands clapping together in excitement.
Something just too red to be natural flashed in the shadows under the trees, the wind sighing in relief.
* * *
Eirian awoke that morning, fingers still interlaced with Lavayne’s, to something swaying in the corner of her vision. She rolled over, towards Lavayne. Something throbbed, as she watched Lavayne’s chest rise and fall, Lavayne’s eyelids fluttering a little, as if dreaming. It had taken the women a long time to fall asleep; they were filled with excitement and unused to sleeping outdoors. Eirian did not want to break her sister’s peace, so she extricated her fingers slowly.
Her sister. She wanted to touch Lavayne to make sure that she was real. Solid. All her life, the only thing that Eirian had truly wanted was someone like her. Someone with whom she could share everything. Someone who could make her happy. And a sister could do all that for her. She remembered long nights of crying herself to sleep when mummy was away, one of her winged servants babysitting. All she had wanted was a playmate who did not have to be sent away at the full moon, or who was not as infernally ancient as the spirits. She could never have one, though, The forest did not yield other human beings.
Or at least that was what she thought. She was angry that mummy would conceal Lavayne from her, when over and over she had asked for a friend. She knew that mummy must have had her reasons, but she hated that Lavayne had to be hidden from her. They could have played together, shared their childhood, rather than living in solitary confinement.
Eirian resisted the urge to kiss Lavayne’s cheek. Or her eyelids, still trembling, almost purple in colour. Tiny butterflies that had landed on her eyes. She was so fragile, and yet so strong. So much better than Eirian, who merely wore the façade of the damsel in distress, but who could not help herself.