Farron closed the heavy, worn leather bound book and ran a sun-kissed hand over the draconian head sigil adorning its cover. Aetherwing, the famed dragon from the Arctosian legends, her favorite story.
A loud, congested snore permeated the silence of the princess’s bedroom. Farron snorted in response and turned to see Kyrann’s massive ebony form draped upside down over the foot of her bed. His two front paws, nearly the size of dinner plates, were stuck in the air with his toes twitching like he was kneading an invisible blanket.
“I’m glad you’re able to sleep,” The princess murmured as she rose from her chair and crossed the room with a grace that even her mother, the queen, would be impressed with.
She placed the book back in its empty spot on the otherwise dusty shelf and turned back to the bed where Kyrann shifted, causing the tips of his horns to get caught in the aged, worn fabric of her favorite sage green duvet.
Careful not to wake the snoozing beast, she ran a hand over his curved charcoal-colored horns and tugged free the tattered strands of the blanket. She rubbed circles over the thick silky fur of his chest and Kyrann purred, his silver whiskers twitching. She gave him a gentle pat and moved on to open the double ivory doors that opened out onto the sun-faded limestone balcony.
Farron stepped out into the cool early morning air. A pleasant breeze wafted upwards, ruffling her ash-brown hair, and tickling her nose before she swept it back behind her ear. She wrapped her cerulean robes tighter around herself.
The first rays of sunlight rose over the snow-tipped peaks of the Hadrian Mountains, casting rose and golden hues over its harsh jagged edges. The silhouette glowed like a halo in the morning light. Farron squinted up at the light over the mountain and smiled as she breathed in the brisk brine-coated air.
The castle and the city beyond it were still silent. A pure, beautiful, unfiltered silence that vibrated statically along her arms and shoulders like a kiss of genuine magic. It made her insomniac nights well worth the struggle. As if on cue, she lifted her hand to stifle a yawn as she crossed the balcony.
Her bare feet scuffed against the cool stone, and she propped her elbows on the lip of the balustrade, letting her hands hang over to dangle in the thick ivy that snaked its way around the balusters and dotted sporadically with tiny violet and pink flowers.
She brushed the petals of a rather plump pink one as she looked out at the mighty Hadrian Mountains, watching as snow drifts kicked up around its peak, catching in the morning light.
It was easy for her over-imaginative brain to picture them as flames, especially when the book she’d been reading tonight was about those very mountains the scaled Dreki called home. Or, used to.
She shuddered at a sudden cool breeze and wrapped her arms around herself as her gaze shifted to the lush garden below her. With the remnants of moonlight and the coming dawn illuminating the towering evergreen walls of the labyrinth, it caught on the layer of early morning fog that was weaving its way along the stoned paths and in between the beds of rose bushes that lined the walkway leading up to it.
The hairs at the nape of her neck stood up and as a faint humming sound filled the air. It took the princess a few seconds before she realized that she wasn’t imagining it.
She looked down, her eyebrows scrunching together as she squinted into the garden. The humming sound grew steadily louder, and the princess blanched, lifting her chin off her hand as she spotted the two small shadowy figures standing by the birch wood archway of the labyrinth.
What in blazes would children be doing in the gardens at this time of day?
Their dark outlines fluttered like smoke. The two of them began to circle each other, like a dance. The humming sound she’d heard was coming from them, turning into soft, barely audible murmurs as it drifted up to her. It sounded like a chant, no, a song, she realized. The melody was light and lowly despite the abrupt shortness of the words.
The princess straightened and drew in a deep breath. She was about to yell at them for being outside in the dark like this, but her mouth hung open, the air rushing out of her as a small blue orb illuminated the space between them. The orb shuttered and spurted, and small sparks of light shot off its rounded surface as the orb expanded, retracted, and then expanded again, growing larger.
The blue glow swirling between hem revealed the edges of their faces and Farron’s eyes widened in disbelief as she noticed their long, crooked noses and the round curves of their cheeks. She couldn’t help the gap that burst from her as her eyes locking onto their knife-pointed ears.
She’d never seen such a thing!
Then, as suddenly as it had all manifested, the two strange creatures stopped, and their beastly faces turned upwards towards the princess. The light finished, plunging the garden into darkness. Her stomach sank as two sets of golden eyes blazed in the dark.
Her neck prickled as a breath puffed across her ear. She whirled and pressed her back into the cool balcony railing. She was alone.
Farron blinked, her heart thundering in her chest. She crept forward towards the still open ivory doors. Kyrann’s faint snores drifted out to her. As she leaned her head inside the doorway, a log crackled in the fireplace and the princess screamed, leaping backward, and falling against the limestone railing. She hissed and grasped her wounded elbow, rubbing it furiously to ease the ache radiating along her forearm.
The bed groaned as Kyrann’s massive ebony form burst through the open doorway. His silver eyes narrowed and on full alert as he scanned the balcony and the princess crouched at the railing.
“Are you alright?” His velvety voice flowed into her mind.
Her lip tumbled as she looked at him. He stalked closer, still taking in his surroundings. The princess released her elbow and folded her hands into her lap as he approached. He leaned his head dow and bumped it against her forehead reassuringly.
The princess huffed a laugh and reached a shaky hand up to scratch his ear. “I’m sorry I woke you,” She murmured. “I just scared myself.” She got to her wet and ran a hand along his back as she walked inside. The beast hesitated, eyes scanning the garden beyond before turning and following his princess inside.
She sat at the foot of the bed, scrubbing her face, and groaning into her hands.
“What is it?” He tried again. She shook her head and lowered her hands to stare back at him. She wanted to tell him, but what could she say? That she as sleep deprived and thought she’d seen monsters in the garden? Even thinking it sounded ridiculous.
Farron shook her head, clearing her thoughts out. “I’m just tired,” She lied. “I think I’m going to take a bath.” Kyrann’s head cocked to the side. The princess stood and entered the adjoining bathing room. The sound of running water filled the silence. He waited until he heard her sloshing into the tun before he followed her.
Farron reached over and lazily tugged a cloth from the small oak table beside the tub that was littered with various vials of soap. She dipped the cloth into the hot water and pressed it to her face. She scrubbed gently and dipped it back into the water, leaning her head back ain’t the rim of the tub and then pressing the dripping cloth over her closed eyes.
Her mind drifted back to the creatures she’d seen in the garden, with their blue light, their pointed, strange faces, and those haunting golden eyes. She wasn’t sure when she’d dozed off but the smacking wet sound of Kyrann licking himself invaded her every thought.
Farron sat up, the cloth dropping into the now cool water with an audible plop. She squinted at the sudden brightness streaming in through the stained-glass window on the adjacent wall. The refracted light of green and gold splayed across the floor and tub.
She glanced down at Kyrann. Sure enough, his foot was stuck in the air and his face was buried in his nether regions.
“What a gentleman,” She grumbled, lip curling. She let her hand flop over the side of the tub and glared at the ceiling as those gods awful smacking sounds grated on her every nerve. “Could you do that somewhere else?” She bit out.
“This is a bathing room, isn’t it? Would you rather I clean myself on your bed?”
“I’ve no doubt you do that every chance you get.”
“Only on your pillow.”
Farron huffed a laugh as she reached for one of the vials and poured its contents into her hand. She lathered thoroughly and rinsed off. The princess shivered as she rose out of the water and accepted the towel hanging from Kyrann’s mouth as he sat next to the tub. He adverted his eyes to giver the princess her privacy as she stepped out of the tub and dried herself off. She wrapped the towel around her hair and wrapped herself back up in her robe.
Kyrann plodded over to the bed. The springs groaned as he climbed onto it, circled twice, and lay down, crossing one elegant massive paw over the other. The princess opened the wardrobe, fished two tunics out of the bottom, and turned to face Kyrann.
“Do you think I’d look better in the teal tunic or the grey one?” She asked, holding them up to her chest in turn, grinning at him.
The princess could feel the beast’s amusement prickling in the back of her mind. His only answer, however, was to raise one black paw and lick it.
“Okay,” She began again, drawing out the ‘y’, “What would you choose if you were going to wear it?”
Kyrann gave her a bored glance, if a feline beast could do such a thing, and said, “That would depend on whether or not you are going to help me into it.” He raised his paw back up, showing her the pads underneath and flexed his toes, causing his white claws to slip out. “No thumbs.”
Farron snorted and shook her head. She tossed the grey tunic back into the wardrobe, then untied her robe and flung it over Kyrann’s fat head. She yanked the deep teal tunic over her head and pulled on a pair of brown trousers.
A huff from behind her told her that Kyrann had pulled the silk robe from his face. She flashed a grin and tugged on her boots, lacing them up.
“I had a weird dream,” she said softly, keeping her back to him. “It felt so real though.”
Kyrann sat up, his back paws slid forward, and his front paws nestled between them. Farron suppressed a giggle when she finally faced him. He was sitting like a cow in a pasture. She folded her arms over her chest and leaned her back against the wardrobe door.
“I was on the balcony,” She began, nodding her head towards the open ivory doors. “There were these little creatures down by the labyrinth and they were sort of dancing.”
Kyrann’s silver eyes flickered to her hazel ones, and she could feel the ferocity behind that stare.
“I don’t know what they were doing there, if I’m being honest with you,” She went on. “But they were playing with this ball of light.” Her eyebrows knit together in concentration as she recalled the details. “They were singing this strange song. Well, it was strange at first, but then it turned sort of…pretty. Then they looked at me, and the light just vanished, and then I felt someone touch my neck.” She scrunched her nose at that. “Well, it felt like someone was standing behind me and breathing onto my ear.” She shook her head and forced herself to grin. “Some dream, huh?”
“Are you sure you were dreaming?” Kyrann asked carefully.
“Of course, it was a dream, Kyrann. Faeries don’t exist.”
Kyrann went rigid at the word so casually uttered from her mouth. “You didn’t mention faeries.” His voice was stern, laced with concern.
Faeries were hunted down and burned at the stake a hundred years ago. It had started as a mad king’s lust for vengeance and power and had turned into an all-out witch hunt and genocide of an entire arc. It was what had influenced the Great War that had made Arctos king.
Faerie wasn’t a term that one should say in a casual manner, if at all.
“It was a dream,” She insisted, shrugging a shoulder.
“Are you certain? Beyond a shadow of a doubt?”
“Yes,” She lied. There was no conviction in her tone, ad she mentally cursed herself for it.
Faeries didn’t exist, at least not anymore. If they did, surely, they wouldn’t have been the size of a child!
A knock rapped on the door. The princess breathed a sigh of relief as she strode across the room and pulled open the heavy oak door. Sophia, her handmaiden, stood in the hall with a large silver tray bedecked in various fruits, a plate of rolls, and a tea kettle with cups.