Her green eyes, wide and curious, stared me down from the safety of her mother’s arms.
The queen of Relkom chuckled at her baby. “I believe Valenor is taking a liking to the young prince.”
My mother smiled in agreement. She took her own turn holding the young princess. This baby thieving seemed to be the trend among the females in the castle.
I straightened up taller next to my father and the other king, trying to appear indifferent as they did.
“Kalin,” my mother’s voice startled me as she walked closer. “Would you like to hold her?”
Though I was hardly a man, being the age of 13 was still enough to need to keep hold of my pride. I shook my head and pretended to take interest in the men’s conversation. It was mostly gibberish to me, but I knew the two kings didn’t agree on many things as they discussed the possibilities of being allies. Also, I knew that my dad didn’t like the King of Relkom and didn’t want our kingdom of Auden to be influenced by their kingdom.
There was only one thing that kept my dad here, gritting his teeth, holding back his dislike, and faking friendship, and that was my mother. She and the queen of Relkom had been friends since childhood. If it wasn’t for them, I’m sure the two kingdoms would have ripped each other apart long ago.
It was all confusing to me. My father taught me that a king needed to always do what he thought was best. To act in total power and dominance and never show weakness. Yet when it came to my mother, he was like a kitten.
My eyes turned back towards the sound of the women laughing as they adored the baby. Their eyes glowed in playfulness and delight. That side of the room looked much happier.
It didn’t take long for my father’s cold eyes to notice me looking. I quickly turned my attention back to the men’s world. The world that I needed to be in.
“Prince Kalin!” The sound of a maid’s voice caused me to stop walking down the hallway. “Bless your heart, I needed saving just now. The queens are having their morning tea, and something urgent came up that I need to tend to. Please watch the princess. Just for a moment! I won’t be but a hen’s hold long.”
And just like that, she dashed away, leaving me without enough time to even know what to think. It was only a moment later when the baby princess started to cry. I slowly walked into the room where she wiggled around in her crib. What was I to do?
Taking care of children was the women’s job. That’s what my father always told me. But with such pitiful cries coming from a helpless being, could I do nothing?
Making sure no one was around, I stepped in front of the crib. Now what?
“It’s okay, little princess. Don’t cry.”
But, of course, my words did no good.
“You don’t need to be afraid. If there is a dragon, I’ll slay it. If there is an ogre, I’ll tie it up. If there is a goblin, I’ll turn it into a frog.”
Those were words to a song my mother used to sing to me. The princess seemed to calm a bit after that but still didn’t look very happy. I lightly poked her little arm. Next, her small hand somehow ended up around my finger.
“Hey, that’s mine.” I lightly yanked it back, but her hold was stronger than I expected. “Are you a finger thief, Princess?”
She made some baby sounds back as slobber started to run down her lips. Baby slime, yuck.
I made my own sounds back. This time, she finally smiled. I felt rather proud of this accomplishment. It encouraged me to make some even more silly sounds with faces till she started laughing. I couldn’t help but admit that she was a little bit cute. Especially those big, green eyes.
“She seems to really like you.”
I jumped at the sound of the maid who I hadn’t realized had come back.
Ripping my finger away, I stumbled back. “Um, uh…yeah.”
Without another word, I left the room. But not without one last look at those mesmerizing eyes.
-Two years later-
I stood with my mother as we watched the carriage roll up. The queen of Relkom was visiting as she often did. The king, however, didn’t join her as he often didn’t. This time, I believe, he and my father had been arguing over how to deal with some cave trolls at the border. With my father gone on a hunting trip, it was bound to be more of a peaceful week.
As expected, it was the little princess Valenor who popped out of the carriage first.
“Kali, Kali!” She yelled as her little legs wobbled to me.
I didn’t bother correcting her on my name this time, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. With a smile and a bow, I greeted her and the queen.
The two mothers, going to the garden to talk, left the princess with me.
“Dwagon wide, dwagon wide!” The princess begged.
Dragon ride was her new favorite game.
“Fine, alright.” I got on all fours in the grass and helped her climb up on my back.
“Fwy dwagon fwy!” She giggled with glee.
I crawled around until too tired. “Why don’t we get a snack now.”
She agreed and took my hand as we pestered the cook for a treat.
Her face first scowled until the princess gave a pout. “Fine. Take some scones, but don’t tell her mother. Dinner is soon, and I don’t wanna be ending up in trouble.”
I nodded our thanks, and we found a sitting room to eat in. The princess, however, didn’t sit down. She wandered around the room, leaving crumbs on the floor as she ate.
“Princess, hasn’t your mother ever told you to stay still when eating?”
Oblivious to the mess she was making, she kept on with her curious eyes, exploring the room.
I shook my head with a chuckle then ordered a maid to clean it up. After our snack adventures, the little princess yawned then found a place on my lap.
I tried to gently tug her off. “If you are sleepy, I’ll send you to your room for a nap.”
But she ignored my comment and slept right there.
I sighed and shook my head. But what was I to do?
“Are you sure they were dragon tracks?” The king of Relkom asked.
My father’s voice thundered back. “Dare you question my judgment!? Especially when this is all your fault!”
“Dear, I’m sure there is some kind of explanation.” My mother tried to calm him.
“Silence!” My father’s voice shot back at her. “This matter is not for women to mettle in.”
She sat back down next to the other queen. Both looked worried. The men, on the other hand, stood with faces filled with so much rage; I feared they might try to kill each other.
The other king kept defending. “We haven’t had dragons in our region in decades.”
My father’s eyes sharpened even harder. “And we still wouldn’t now if you were doing your proper duty as a king.”
Valenor started to fuss with fright at all the noise. Taking her hand, I led her away.
Once out in the gardens, she seemed to settle down. Soon, she was laughing as she chased butterflies. To be so carefree must have been nice. I tried to enjoy the problem-free simplicity as well. But I knew one day, I would be king and would have to deal with all the problems that my father did. It wasn’t a day that I wanted to come soon.
Right when I thought all was at peace, an earth quaking roar filled the air. My eyes darted around the sky and saw what I dreaded it might be. A dragon. My father had been right. I had never seen one before, but it seemed much bigger than I had ever imagined. And it was headed right for the castle.
“Valenor!” I called out. Where had she disappeared to?
It was only moments later when the dragon had reached us, throwing its deadly flames. The garden set ablaze faster than I had time to think. My voice screamed out for the princess once again. Running around the flames, I spotted her trapped in a corner by a burning fence. Though the fire separated us, I dashed through it. I grabbed her and tried to shield her from the flames as much as I could and didn’t stop moving.
Finally in safety, I at once dropped her and quickly put out the flames that scorched my clothes. It was only now that I realized how much it hurt. Inspecting the princess next, I breathed relief as she seemed fine. But the fear in her eyes wouldn’t subside.
The dragon still roared ferociously as it circled the castle which too was in flames.
With no more strength to stand anymore, I fell to my knees. Though I wasn’t sure if it was more for myself or the princess, I wrapped my arms around her and tried to sing that song.
“If there is a dragon, I’ll slay it. If there is an ogre, I’ll tie it up. If there is a goblin, I’ll turn it into a frog.”
My eyes stared down at the table as the elders around me discussed my future. I cared little of it. My parents were dead. There wasn’t anything I wanted to think or feel about. And I was too young to be king. The elders could take over and do as they pleased.
They continued talking as if I wasn’t even there.
“This is the perfect opportunity to start a new rulership, one without kings. The elders should always have been the ones to rule, not only one person. The king didn’t always go to us for advice, and look at how many foolish choices he made. Ties to Relkom is the first thing we need to end.”
“You are wrong. Relkom is a great resource we need to ally with. But with the king gone, it can finally come under our control. But we can’t do that as elders. But with Prince Kalin as the only heir left to any throne, we can use him to rule both kingdoms.”
“But they wouldn't want someone else's king as their own.”
“That is why the prince would marry the princess.”
“Foolery! Both kingdoms would collapse before she was of age.”
“And that is where the fairies come in. They have always helped us in time of need. The girl would go live with them, and they can use their magic to age her faster. We are fortunate that she was in our possession when her parents died. We must not squander this opportunity.”
I finally looked up at them in rage. “I am the new king. This is my decision. We won’t send her away like a tool to be used!”
The main elder only smiled in confidence. “You are not king yet, young one. And who else will raise her? The fairies will be the best place for her. And most safe. Orxa armies are only growing stronger. It’s only a matter of time until they attack. That’s why we need both our kingdoms to unite. It is what is best for us all.”
Too trapped in my emotions to argue, I nodded and left.
Once alone in my room, the tears finally unleashed. How could any of this be real? The hours passed though time felt to stand still as I sat on the ground, back to the wall. Nothing pulled me out of my trance, not even hunger or thirst, until the little Valenor found me.
“Kali?” She put a hand on my arm.
I wanted to be brave for her. She also lost her parents, but she would be too young to understand. Nor why she was being sent away.
Wrapping my arms around her, I never wanted to let go, feeling she was all I had left. And soon I would have nothing. Except for my duties that would be expected of me.
She spent the rest of the day with me as if knowing I was drowning in sorrow. The next day, the Elders had already set up for her departure. It was too soon. Yet, I knew no time would be enough.
I managed to tame my tears by the time the carriage arrived.
Getting on my knees, I looked into those familiar eyes one last time. “You are going to stay with the fairies now. But don’t be scared. It will be lots of fun. And here,” I handed her a stuffed wolf I had gotten her. “He will protect you.”
Though she took the wolf, she clung onto me. “Kali, come with me!”
“No, I can’t…I…I just…I can’t.” Those words felt true of my entire being.
I felt I couldn’t think, couldn’t feel, couldn’t move. At least not how I was supposed to.
Right when I felt I couldn't stand to lose yet another part of my soul, a guard pried her from my arms. She screamed and cried as they forced her into the carriage and rode away.
My eyes, raw from tears, stared out numbly till they disappeared.
Would I ever see her again?