Written by Lucas Pralle
Narrated by Larry Anderson
The first sculpture that Lily encountered was, of all things, a wolf from a place that Luland called the Inner Harsh. Luland would take Lily and Sol around the castle and sometimes even into his laboratory to explain things to them. Her brother acted like he didn’t listen, but Lily knew that he was paying attention more than he let on. The jade sculpture of the wolf had a nasty, tooth-filled mouth, and its hair looked like it was standing on end. Lily wondered if someone had actually seen one of the wolves in real life before, or if it was from their imagination.
She waited for Sol to spring out from behind the sculpture at any moment, but that never came. She figured he was hiding behind another one.
“Sol, stop or I’m going to tell Mom!” yelled Lily. Threats like that generally didn’t work on Sol anymore, but she hoped that it would work this time. She hated it when Sol scared her like this. He had gotten into a nasty habit of playing these games. Lily cautiously walked up to the next statue.
This one, according to Luland, was one of her great, great ancestors. It was a sculpture of a woman holding a staff in one hand and a book in the other. Luland said that the woman was an aunt, and to Lily’s delight, her name was Courtney, like the lead servant of the castle. Many years prior, Courtney, Lily’s aunt not the servant, had led an expedition against impossible odds throughout what was now the kingdom but was then a collection of warring states, and convinced them to stop fighting and join the kingdom. Lily had asked Luland how she’d managed that, and he’d said that it was complicated and that some of the rulers needed a little more convincing than others.
“Regardless,” he’d said, “the end goal of peace outweighed any immediate blood that had been spilled,” and Lily’s remarkable ancestor had made it happen.
Lily quickly looked behind the statue. There was only the marble faced wall.
A hand grabbed her shoulder.
“Ah! Stop it, Sol!” said Lily as she turned around.
“What are you doing young lady?” asked the captain of the guard. “Your mother is livid, and your brother said you ran off on him.” He was a tall, muscular man with a thick brown mustache and beard that half covered his perpetual scowl.
“That’s a lie! He ran off on me just moments ago.”
“That’s enough. Your mother and your brother have both been waiting in the dining hall for almost an hour. I suggest you get moving. This is no way for a princess to be conducting herself.”
It was also no way for the captain of the guard to be addressing a princess, thought Lily as she walked briskly down the corridor toward the dining chamber. She was more concerned with what the captain had said about her brother and the time involved. An hour was a considerable exaggeration; in her mind, it had only been five minutes. The captain of the guard wasn’t anything exciting, much less an exaggerator.
As Lily approached the dining chamber, two guards wearing shiny silver breastplates and jade colored uniforms opened the massive wooden doors, allowing her to enter. The castle opened up into a large arch-vaulted chamber. Guards stood post at several doors around the perimeter. Light shown down from skylights high above and illuminated the long, wooden dining table, the same one from Lily’s dream. Lily’s mother was at the table.
Her light, honey blond hair elegantly captured the warm light cascading down and glowed. In contrast to this, the sterling crown atop her head was sharp and pristine, like a shard of glass on a lonely beach or a grand monument atop a mountain. Power and grace. The woman was vigilantly studying the pages of a thick, cracked tome which sat before her on the table.
Sol stood behind their mother tossing a silver sphere in the air. A wicked smirk formed on his lips when he saw Lily enter the chamber. Lily wanted to punch him in his face. She approached her mother, the queen, as quietly as she possibly could.
Queen Jade continued to run her finger through the pages of the thick book. Lily quickly recognized what it was. It was the Official Registry of the Royal Courts. Lily knew that because Luland had told her. He had explained that all castles must register their court in the Registry of the Royal Courts, so that in the event that a delegation was sent from one castle to another, the receiving court would know what to expect. Luland had said that all of this bookkeeping was primarily in the name of politeness, but there were some factors regarding security as well. If you weren’t on the list, then the receiving court was not obligated to let you enter the castle, and the offending court couldn’t do a thing about it. Those were the rules.
Lily’s mother was saying some of the names out loud, deliberately, as if she was trying to remember them. “Captain Tolten, Ambassador Wellington, Alchemist Geralt…” She noticed Lily and stopped reading. There was a long pause, and she gave Lily a hard stare before saying, “Young lady, you will learn to listen to me and whatever extension of myself that I dispatch, such as your brother!”
Lily heard a semi-silenced chuckle. She looked over the queen’s shoulder, at Sol. He was still throwing the silver sphere in the air. She didn’t dare challenge her mother and try to explain what had happened. Besides, she didn’t understand what had happened enough to even begin explaining what had occurred.
“Anyway, now that you are finally here, I want you to fetch Courtney and tell her to prepare you for court tonight. There is a delegation from the southern castle in Ker that we will be hosting in this very chamber, and you will be a part of the court. You need to get used to this type of thing,” said her mother sternly.
“Now get moving. You’re already running late,” said her mother as she resumed reading the names in the registry. There was another muted laugh from Sol as Lily passed by him toward the servants’ part of the castle. Two Jadean guards opened the way for Lily.
The servants’ part of the castle was Lily’s favorite place in Castle Jade. It included the kitchen, storerooms, and other areas that kept Castle Jade running. Here, people were always moving around, doing things, important things, not flipping through pages of some big dumb book that nobody cared about. Lily knew that Courtney would be in the kitchen, ensuring that the enormous feast needed for the incoming delegation was prepared without a hitch. The kitchen was in a constant state of chaos as it was, but when a delegation was expected to arrive, it was absolute insanity.
A tall, male servant wearing white and carrying an overloaded bin of glistening fish almost ran into Lily when she entered the turbulent kitchen. “Excuse me, little miss,” he said as he deftly whirled around and kept on walking.
The smell of myriad ingredients filled the air. Attendants chopped away with knives. Chefs with tall white hats tasted various sauces. Most shook their heads in disapproval and barked out orders. It wasn’t perfect yet, but it would be perfect. It had to be perfect.
Other workers, all sorts, burly men built like oxen, and tall, lean girls alike, all dressed in simple jade uniforms, were distributing what was needed where it was needed. It looked like a crazed, unorganized mess, but Lily knew that was far from the truth. Castle Jade was considered to be the best in the kingdom. She wove her way through the bustle until she spotted Courtney in the back corner, smiling and speaking to Luland.
Lily was pretty sure that Courtney was Luland’s girlfriend, and if she wasn’t yet, he wanted her to be. Luland would make special trips from his alchemy laboratory on the opposite side of the castle to Courtney’s servant area on regular occasions to give her strange gifts that he had collected or created, and Courtney would bring him treats, like his favorite, fickleberry pie. Lily approached the two.
Instead of the cotton, jade colored, long sleeve tops and baggy bottoms that the majority of the other staff members wore, Courtney wore a snug-fitting, one-piece dress with a magenta headband and large sash around her waist, denoting her position as lead servant at Castle Jade.
“Hello, miss, you know your mother was quite upset with you when I last spoke with her,” said Courtney as she waved her finger at Lily in a playful manner. Courtney wasn’t mean like the captain.
“Oh hi, Lily, I was just asking Courtney about our fickleberry pie that we were talking about earlier, but apparently there will be several of them served tonight at court. Where did you manage to run off to after we spoke anyway?” asked Luland. He seemed to be a bit perplexed by the situation.
“I guess I lost track of time,” said Lily. It was the truth after all, in a way. Plus, she really didn’t have a valid explanation to offer. Maybe she would tell Luland about what had happened later, but now wasn’t the time, not in front of Courtney.
“Anyway, miss, we need to get to your quarters and get you set up for tonight. Your mother expects you to be a full participant in this one, no more kid stuff, and if you ask me, she’s right,” said Courtney.
Lily nodded in agreement.
Courtney dotingly grabbed Luland’s shoulder and pulled herself up to his ear. “I’ll talk to you later. Thank you for the gift, Mr. Alchemist.” Lily watched as Luland’s face flushed.
Courtney grabbed Lily’s hand and led her upstairs to her chambers. When they opened the door, there were already two attendants standing in the middle of the room, waiting for them. “Alright ladies, time to make her shine even more than she already does, of course,” said Courtney as she tossed Lily’s raven hair playfully.
“Yes, ma’am,” said the two servants in unison. The women got to work immediately.
They moved to Lily and began stripping the clothes off her. Before she could object, she was in a steaming bath with hot water being dumped on her head. The moment Lily thought she had enough time to lodge a complaint with the attendants, she was doused with a new bucket, thus effectively silencing her.
After what felt like eons and near drowning, she was taken out of the bath, dried off, and a long red silken dress was slipped onto her. Lily’s hair was then rolled up and heated into curls. It was all a bit of a blur, but despite the discomfort of being kneaded and poked like a piece of floury dough, Lily had to admit, the manner that it had been carried out in, the speed and efficiency, was impressive. Regardless, she was happy when Courtney thanked and dismissed the attendants. There was one final detail that needed to be attended to before Lily could appear at the dinner.
“I’m going to tell you about a secret that the people of my region have used for a very long time, little miss,” said Courtney. She pulled up a chair and sat in front of Princess Jade.
“A secret weapon?” asked Lily.
“Yes, I suppose you could call it that,” said Courtney, laughing a bit. “One that has the ability to open closed doors, disarm the strongest of men, and even frighten the scariest of your enemies into submission.”
“Today is an extra special day for you because we pick your color.”
“Color for what?”
“For your eyes silly. And it’s very important that we pick the proper color for you. It makes all the difference. In my homeland, in the west, it can take weeks for the elders to decide on the proper color. Fortunately for you, I’m an expert at this sort of thing, and I’ve been thinking about this since I held you in my arms as a baby.”
“It’s that important?” asked Lily.
“Your eyes are where your power comes from, and the proper color ensures that that power is channeled correctly. See mine?” Courtney leaned in closer. Lily looked carefully at her eyes. She thought that Courtney always had beautiful eyes, but now she noticed the dark blue line outlining them.
“Do the boys wear makeup on their eyes too, where you come from?” asked Lily.
“Oh yes, the power of the eye is universal and you can do many things with it. Applying it is easy, but the color, the color is important. You need to match the color with the power of the individual.”
“What’s your power?” asked Lily.
“My color reflects and intensifies my ability to nurture and for those around me to trust me.”
“Is that why you take care of Luland and he trusts you so much?” asked Lily.
Courtney tilted her head back sharply as she laughed heartily. “I suppose that has a little to do with it, but not everything.”
“So is my color going to be like yours?”
“Oh no, that would be a waste of your power. I thought I knew your color the moment I saw you, and as you’ve grown, that thought has been confirmed even more.”
Lily sat up in the chair she was sitting in. She was so excited.
Courtney reached down into the bag at her side and pulled out a small tin. “This, little miss, is the color for your power,” said Courtney as she handed the tin to Lily.
It was a dark green color.
“What does it mean?” asked Lily.
“I can fly?”
“Yes, there are many forms of flying and freedom. Most are afraid to fly. But it takes some falling before you can learn how to fly. This gives you the strength to do that, and it allows others to see that power within you, without you having to say a word.”
“Wow!” said Lily excitedly as she handed the tin back to Courtney.
Courtney produced a small brush from her bag and crafted thickening lines around Lily’s eyes, pushing the color out away from them much further than what Lily had seen other women in the castle wear. She wondered if her mother would be upset. Courtney finished applying the makeup and sat back in her chair to admire her work. She shook her head slowly. Lily was worried that something had gone wrong.
“If you could see what I see, not just in a mirror, but to truly see how much you’ve got ahead of you…” She grabbed Lily’s hand. “Well, I better get back downstairs and make sure the feast is coming along properly. You have five minutes to get down to the reception hall for the announcements. Please don’t be late.” Courtney stood and walked to the door, but before she left the room, she stopped and turned.
“I want you to remember, no matter what happens, you just need to take a deep breath, and well, fly. Will you remember that for me?”
“Good girl, you better get moving.”
Courtney disappeared out the door. Lily sat for a moment and thought about everything that had happened that day: the dream, Sol disappearing on her, the strange difference in time, and now all of this power and flying business. It was a lot to take in, but there wasn’t nearly enough time to piece it all together.
Lily had three minutes to get in position for the royal announcement ceremony. She made her way to the reception hall.