It was late in the evening and the four sisters were in the princesses drawing room, discussing the upcoming engagement. It had been a shock to them all as they were not expecting it to take place until December.
The room was glowing warmly from the dazzling chandeliers above while the balcony doors were open, allowing the cool breeze from outside to enter the room. The distant hum of the bustling palace life faded away slowly as time went by and gradually everyone began to retreat for the night.Terania sighed softly, it was not often she let her emotions show.
“Is everything ok Terania?” Layana asked as she completed another page of the punishment her father had set for. She still had so much more to write and her fingers were aching.
“Of course it is, Lord Zephyr will be arriving in a few days and soon we will be officially engaged. I have barely spoken to the man since our proposal was put forth,” Terania reply her deep melodic voice sounded tired.
“You will be ok, it's your duty,” Cordelia said making Aurelia and Layana roll their eyes.
“It's ok to talk about it and feel this way Tera,” Layana said gently placing her papers down, Aurelia took the chance to scoop them up and read them. Layana did not stop her and walked over to Terania.
“Tell me what do you know about him?” Layana asked batting her eyelashes for added effect.
Terania gave her a small smile knowing her sister was trying to make it seem like a lighter topic
“He’s old,” Aurelia added glancing up from the papers as Cordelia frowned at her and Layana gave her a look.
“Well Terania is twenty-one,” Cordelia said as she glanced up from the large book she was now reading.
“He’s twenty-nine, he is relinquishing his title as future duke of House Masbole to become future prince consort,” Terania said taking a deep breath.
“And? What else, what does he look like?” Layana asked, Terania raised her perfect brows at her sister.
“Layana you have seen him,”“I only saw him from afar,” Layana replied waving her hand as she slid her legs up onto the sofa and placed her head comfortably in Terania’s lap. Smiling faintly, her unique coloured iridescent eyes sparkled as she placed her arms across her slender waist looking up at her sister. Terania chuckled lightly.“Ok well, he’s tall, six-foot at least. He’s muscular, quiet, serious and has these bright blue eyes and dark brown hair… his hair is rather nice, he is handsome…” Terania said as Layana smiled.
“Hmm, I actually remember his eyes now that you mention it, was it just me or did they barely leave you?” she teased making her sister swat her hand.
“That’s not true,” she said.
Layana smiled, happy her sister seemed a little less down.
“It is true,” Aurelia chimed in.
“Well, who else should he have been looking at?” Cordelia said sceptically raising an eyebrow. Layana looked at Terania whose smile was fading slightly.
"Just think, he too is leaving all he knew. He was trained to be the future Duke but he will have to leave his home and family, I am sure he must be nervous too," Layana said gently and Terania became serious, getting lost in thought,
"I did not even consider that..." she said softly, Layana gave her a smile before standing up and walking to the open balcony.
An ache in her heart, she was always somehow drawn to the beauty of the sky no matter what time of day it was. She walked to the door stepping out into the night.
Her chest filled with a surge of happiness as she gazed up at the moon shining bright against a blanket of glittering stars. A soft smile crossed her lips as she admired the splendour of the night. Her heart raced in her chest as she gripped the cool marble of the balcony rail.
Oh, how she wished she could be out there sleeping under an open sky, without care for etiquette and expectations. She raised her slender hand towards the moon. How far away was it? It looked as if it was almost close enough to touch… Almost. She sighed softly lowering her hand.A soft wind blew and Layana closed her eyes letting the breeze swirl around her, she inhaled the soft scent that carried on the wind. Listening to the chirping of crickets and the occasional sound of the palace beneath which she chose to ignore. Cherishing the way the night air kissed her skin, she opened her eyes looking at those twinkling gems in the sky. That was true beauty. The soft smile stayed on her lips.
Not once did the princess look at the breath-taking palace gardens below her, scattered with lights, nor listen to the gushing of the fountains or the chatter of those still awake.
She did not look far out to the city of Odairo, which even at night was beautiful. The houses were lit, the night markets still in full swing, and the hustle and bustle of some stage show playing in the market square. Even that was a luxury she would never have.
Declan rested in a tree in one of the orchards of the palace. He was not too far, the palace was in clear sight, yet he was not so close that he would be bothered.
It was getting late, and everyone was retreating for the night. He saw the odd maid running around to do some errand or other. A dog ran out of the kitchen with a scrap of meat, a tubby man ran out after him shouting, huffing, and puffing. Blissfully ignorant to the danger approaching, he thought.
The day had been tiring, mentally and physically . They had told the king everything they could think of and then they had begun discussing potential strategies that they could implement.
Much to Aren’s barely hidden dismay, they had not got to see the princess again and Declan was glad.
Women. They were trouble. Sure Declan had been with a few over the last couple of years, but it was nothing special, just to fulfil the needs any man had. He had self-control, unlike Aren who would jump any woman ready to spread her legs. Declan never associated himself with the women after that or too often. He did not care for their names, or who they were. And he preferred it like that. He had seen many women classed as ‘beautiful’. But there was nothing special about them and none captured his attention.
He looked up at the starry sky, deciding he should head to bed, he swung his legs off the branch, about to drop to the ground twelve feet below when something caught his eyes.There on the second floor of the palace, on a balcony, a figure he instantly recognised stood, her dress billowing around her, clinging to every dip of her body… Princess Layana…
“Again,” Declan said as he spun his twin swords, sweat dripping down his shirtless torso. Aren staggered back, breathing heavily, his large sword in hand.
The sun was blazing down on the two men who were in the guards training ground at the back of the palace grounds. The floor was hard dirt, to somewhat cushion the worst of falls. It was a large area, with the barracks, the stables and the canteen to the left. Far to the bottom side was the armoury. There were target practices set beyond the stables. Despite it being a training area, it still held the beauty that one would only find in Ehlesaar.
The barracks, canteen and armoury were all built in the same luxury marble used in the palace. Declan had noticed the curved handles on the doors were encrusted with tiny jewels. Excessive, he had thought. But it was clear the kingdom had more money than it needed. Even inside the armoury and the canteen the wealth of the king was prominent and stood out in every way, from the quality of the furnishing to the food.
Pillared marbled arches surrounded the training ground, and there was a seating area for spectators on two sides made of silver-grey granite that glittered in the sun. Other men were training or rather they had been until Declan and Aren had started sparring.
Although many knights trained in the palace, it was only one of the five training areas for the five armies.
The kingdom of Ehlesaar was sectioned into five parts, with each army under the general assigned to that area, taking care of their land and people. Therefore, it only made sense that they each had their own training grounds and battle strategies, as each area was very different.
To the north was the dense forests that separated Ehlesaar from the kingdom of Azhar. Although they were at peace with the kingdom, there were many mercenaries, thieves and other beasts that lived in that forest and would often try to venture into the peaceful lands of Ehlesaar. The riches and luxury of Ehlesaar often attracted unwanted attention.
The army of the north were skilled trackers and excellent fighters that could fight without being given an order. They worked in small squads which were practical for tight forests and smaller groups of threats.
To the south were the Altheyan mountains, always covered in glittering snow. Despite it being the most difficult path of entrance to the kingdom, it was a haven for dark mages, hiding in those passes.
The mountains were rumoured to hold some sort of encaged winged beast, rumoured that anything he laid eyes upon was turned to stone. He was said to be trapped deep within one of the mountains. Legends and myths spoke of this winged nightmare being locked away by the kings of the past. No one knew how true these stories were, none had ever heard any sounds from those mountains. No one really knew of the truth, but it was a story that made its way into the children’s books to scare them at night. But most knew that every story had some sort of origin.
To the east was the open sea, the closest land in the sea being The Silver Isles, the home of The Queen of Ehlesaar, Myra. Despite being allied with them, there were plenty of sea serpents and pirates that were enough to keep The Eastern army busy.
Then there was the west, linked to the forbidden lands. This barren place was devoid of anything human, but it crawled with inhumane beasts and darkness. Strange creatures in different forms would try to enter the Kingdom of Ehlesaar from those lands and the army had to always be ready for the most unpredictable things. It was also the one border that had the heaviest patrol system.
There was one time when a centipede-like insect had crawled into the ears of civilians devouring their insides until their body could no longer function, thus killing them.
Another time there was the spirit of a dead fae who was residing in the barren land until some of the knights scouring the area had stepped on her grave and she had sought vengeance . Coming to the men in dreams and tormenting them, that they could feel such extreme phantom pain that was not actually there but felt so real that their bodies went into cardiac arrest.
The unpredictable attacks and experience at the border to the forbidden lands only bettered the men. Without a doubt they were the strongest mentally, having to fight many attacks from things they could not comprehend and often see.
They were also prepared for anything, learning to fight with their mind, their hands and sword. There were a few mage warriors within their ranks and these were separated into each squadron so each group had an offensive mage.
Declan was the strongest by far, despite never showing the true extent of his powers, he was still feared and respected. But it was only within the western army that he received some respect. Whenever he travelled, if anyone did remember the name Storm they either feared him or showed their distaste.
Declan and Aren were from the most dangerous area by far and it clearly showed in their fighting.
The knights who had trained and lived in the he safety of the palace watched the two men with a mix of emotions. Some in admiration and others in slight annoyance or jealousy. It was a hit to their ego to see the level of their fighting.Aren had asked a few to spar earlier on and he had knocked them all on their asses within minutes. Now many of the men watched in keen interest to see how this match would end.
“Care to share why you’ve been in a bad mood all morning?” Aren grunted massaging his side where Declan had aimed a kick. Both men were very muscular and although Aren looked to be bigger in build they were about the same. Declan's few extra inches just made him look leaner. Each had refined abs and very noticeable V lines.
“I'm not,” Declan said coldly, it was a lie, and he knew it himself. He swung his sword, as Aren barely blocked and Declan swiped down with his other sword. The blond countered, but it was in vain as Declan aimed a kick to Aren’s stomach which knocked the wind out of him slamming him onto the hard floor behind him.
“Fuck you,” Aren hissed as pain jarred through his body.
“No thanks,” Declan retorted turning away from his friend as he frowned. He had not been able to get the princess out of his mind. All night she had invaded his dreams much to his frustration.
With these ridiculous thoughts in his mind, he had gotten no sleep and his irritation had only grown. He wanted to focus on the king and the truth about the destruction of his house, not a woman.
He was glad they had the council meeting soon, he needed a distraction.
“So tell me what's wrong, perhaps I can help,” Aren said stubbornly, again ignored by the dark-haired man.
“Oi Dicklan!” he shouted snickering as he ran over to Declan who stopped in his tracks hearing that stupid nickname, not missing the sneering laughs from some of the other men around. “I was-”
Declan turned and punched him across the face, making the man groan in pain again, the snickering had stopped much to Declan's approval.
“Don’t bother me Aren,” he said coldly before he walked off, not even bothering about the blood that squirted from his friend's nose. He was too much to handle at times, and the man never stopped talking.
“I’ll see you at the council meeting!” Aren called after him, a smirk on his face despite the blood, but no reply came from the raven-haired man who picked up his black shirt, his muscles flexing as he did so. Aren frowned slightly his smirk fading away, something was on Declan's mind and he was worried it was over his House. Little did he know his friend had a very different issue consuming his mind.
The morning sun shone through the library's arched stained-glass windows. The stunning glass shards were in shades of browns and orange sending an even warmer glow through the large hall. From one end you could not see the other, rows and rows of dark cherrywood bookshelves covered the entire room, with certain areas left open for tables made of the same dark cherrywood and some chairs. Each table had a light at the centre. Chandeliers in browns and orange crystals hung from the ceiling spread out in rows casting their glow around the entire area. Along the shelves hung the occasional bracket of lights. The floor in between the shelves had long strips of woven mats in deep blue and right at the back of the library was the silver metal wall that reached the ceiling. It was this wall that separated the restricted area from the main library. It towered rather high, more than three-quarters of the way to the ceiling. Layana shivered as she looked at the centre of that wall from where
The Council meeting had given Declan a short distraction from Layana. Having spent the three-hour meeting filling in the council of ten high ranking nobles at the king's table of everything that had gone on at the border to the forbidden lands. From the dead livestock and other odd occurrences. Currently they had no idea what was linked to the dark lord and what was not. The king had shared the letter of the general too. Despite some of the council members being a little doubtful of the claims in it, the majority ruled they had to play it safe. One thing that was crystal clear was that none of the council liked him. The hostility was clear, but it didn’t bother Declan. After the council meeting, Declan and Aren had been invited to dinner with the royals. Much to Declan's annoyance, Aren on the other hand was extremely excited to meet all the princesses. Something Declan hoped he would be sorely disappointed with. Dinner with the royals also meant dressing more presentably, but D
Declan's cold glare turned to the beauty before him, one thing was clear unlike her sister she was not begging for his attention, rather she was frowning at him, her plump lips set in a determined pout. “Layana,” Evaan said his voice dangerously low. Declan did not look away from those mesmerising eyes, “No. let her speak, let’s see what the sheltered princess has to say,” he said mockingly, his words were like a knife to Layana. For she knew the truth in them. Evaan heaved a deep sigh glaring at his daughter to back down. But both the temperamental princess and the cold heir of House Storm were staring the other down. Dark grey eyes boring into those iridescent red and gold. “Yes, we may be ‘sheltered’ in your eyes, but it does not mean we are ignorant to the world around us. Perhaps we have not seen as much as you have. You might look at us resentfully for the blissful ignorance that we have. But I assure you it’s no fairy tale. Before judging us, remember we are human beings for
Layana had reached the large open doors to the library as a few professors walked out. She slipped inside, unravelling a scroll in front of her. No one spared her a second glance, after all, everyone knew princess Cordelia often sent her staff to get her books. The librarians were too busy signing some books out for several apprentices. A few young scholars were packing away their scrolls and papers on the tables. A servant was cleaning up, wiping down the empty tables and chairs and a librarian was putting away some books. She only hoped she found the book without being caught. Soon the library became quieter with each passing moment. The humming of chatter was soon completely gone, she heard footsteps as one of the staff pushed in the last few chairs and headed out, only when the lights were shut down did Layana release the breath that she had been holding. Now she needed to move to the shelf where she had hidden her small bundle. With the room now bathed in darkness, only the moo
Layana had barely spoken a word to Declan, both did not ask the other for more information on what they were looking for. The only time Declan had spoken was just before the guards had entered. He had approached her making her turn the mage stone off, a finger to his lips. The guards had walked in, barely staying for more than two minutes, and were gone. The moment they had left Declan went off again. Layana only had a title, no author, or any further information about the book she was looking for and despite scouring so many shelves there was nothing. Although there were not as many books in here then the main library, there was still hundreds. She sighed softly as she slowly stepped down from the ladder from yet another shelf. Nothing. No sign of the book, she looked around losing hope, her eyes travelling to the far end of the library. The shelve that ran along the entire back wall looked even more worn and dusty than the rest of the room. Scrunching up her nose she walked ove
“Ignite!” she whispered, feeling the coldness envelop her despite it being a warm night. Deep in the stone walls of the palace she felt cold. “Ignite!” she felt frustrated with the stone that remained dark in her hand. “It won't work, these passageways are probably made so no magic can work here,” Declan's voice came “Then how are we supposed to see ?” she replied trying to feel for the walls when her hand touched something warm, she froze realising she was touching Declan's chest and made to pull away “sorry!” “I'm beginning to wonder if you simply just wanted to get me alone,” he said mockingly gripping her wrist, something about her touch awakened something inside of him. “You wish,” she retorted jerking her hand free from his hold “Don’t think so highly of yourself princess, you are not my type,” he replied, thinking if he had a type she would be it. “Good, and you are not mine either,” she shot back not knowing why his blatant refusal irked her. “Well, since we’ve clarifie
It had been over a week since Layana had retrieved the book for Cordelia. Over a week since she had seen Declan. And over a week since she learned that war was nearing. It had hit her like a cold bucket of ice, once the initial shock had worn off, she pondered over the woman's words over and over trying to make sense of what she had meant. Finding barely anything, she started to find information on the dark lord, but all she found was short stories told to scare children. She rarely saw her father and to her relief queen Myra. Her father was busy in meetings for most of the day or stuck in his office attending to his work. The palace was becoming busier with more knights and nobles visiting whether it was for the meetings or other reasons. Her sisters placed it down Terania’s engagement that was coming closer, but Layana knew the truth, a truth she could tell no one about. She had noticed guards were thickening, and training for the knights had been lengthened and had been raised sev
“I ask for a wager, if I win, you will grant me my wish,” Layana said now looking at her father seriously, Evaan narrowed his eyes, “Very well, continue,” he said “For my eighteenth birthday, I wish to train to fight, then to challenge you in a duel, if I win you will allow me to ride into battle in your stead,” Layana said, her soft voice loud and clear in the garden. Evaans’ eyes widened in shock, of all the assumptions he had, this was one he did not even consider. “No! Layana this is not a joke, it takes years to train and to reach a calibre to lead and organise an army!” the king snapped at her incredulous request, “I do not need to lead. We have generals for that, I only need to be at the head of the battle-” “Never! You are a princess Layana! I will never allow my daughter to ride into battle whilst I sit at home like a coward” Evaan snapped “You gave me your word father,” she said quietly. Evaan frowned knowing he couldn't go back on his words, and it was not like she c