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 she sat, the small door set in the thick metal was chained shut. There was only one way in, and that was to climb over the high wall. Something she needed to brave to retrieve a book her sister Cordelia the second princess desired. It was common for Layana to sneakily break the rules for her.
She had come here on the pretence of getting some of her punishment written up. The truth was she wanted to store some items she needed for later when she would have to attempt to climb that wall. It was a little more than risky but the only one that guaranteed her not getting caught, with a little assistance of course.
She spent another hour there doing some of the dreaded essay. Her slender fingers were sore and blistering. It was a lot of writing, but she was glad she had spoken up, Queen Myra needed to learn she could not bully them all.
She sighed softly as she gathered her papers, glancing around when she saw no one near having chosen a quieter area of the library.
She could still hear the distant hum of people conversing silently, the occasional book dropping onto the floor and the rare sound of someone speaking louder than they should.
Standing up she picked up the small bundle she had bought hidden under her cloak and going to a shelf lifted out three books. She shoved the small bundle behind before replacing the books, although they now stuck out a little. But it would do, glancing around she hugged her papers to her chest and exited the library, chin held high.
She wondered what time it was, queen Azalea had requested to speak to the princesses before lunch.
The sound of a distant bell that went off every hour during the day let her know it was already noon, which meant she was late.
Oh no! she thought as she glanced around the hallway hurrying up as much as possible without breaking into a run. She prayed that no one who would report back to Queen Myra had seen her.
She made her way through the spacious halls that she had grown up in, not noticing the looks from the younger male apprentices. She looked breathtakingly ravishing, but they looked away quickly not daring to be spotted lusting over the princess.
It was no secret that most young men would love to bed the young princess who was soon to come of age. They may keep their opinions secret that no elder or the king heard but if the princess was not so tightly kept hidden away she would surely have had many suitors.
Layana reached queen Azalea’s quarters slightly out of breath, her chest rising and falling as she knocked. She entered the drawing-room once the guards at the door opened the door for her.
“Layana,” Azalea said relieved to see her. Layana curtsied to her.
“Forgive me mother for my tardiness, I was working on my punishment and lost track of time,” she said as her sisters all looked at her, Cordelia shook her head and Terania was noticeably pale.
This room was similar to the princesses drawing room but in shades of greens and soft blues. The queen and her sisters sat gracefully, the table between them holding fruit and a pitcher of juice
“It is fine, however, if it was your father or queen Myra this would not be acceptable,” Azalea said coughing lightly. She covered her mouth and her personal maid who stood to the side hurried forward to grab the queen a glass of water. Azalea smiled at her and accepted it, “I'm a little under the weather,” she said once she had cleared her throat.
“Mother make sure you have some herbal tea, it will help with the cough,” Cordelia said helpfully. Azalea nodded as she turned to the girls once more.
“Now, there are several things that we need to go through, I was just telling these three that I have prepared you all a list of things you must have prepared and ready before the end of the month.”
Layana looked at the scrolls on the table and then at her sisters' unsure what was happening
“We all need an entire new wardrobe for the wedding celebration,” Aurelia whispered to her. “Twenty-five dresses each. Daywear, evening wear, everything,”
“For an engagement is that not a bit much?” Layana asked confused
“If you came on time Layana you would know why,” Cordelia said, making Layana pout as she had been in the library for her. “The thing is, that not only has the engagement moved forward but the wedding itself will happen within a month,” Cordelia finished, her strong confident voice loud and clear making Layana’s eyes fly open in shock. She looked at Terania who was sat there tight-lipped.
“But why, why the sudden rush? Is something going on?” she asked, a small frown on her face.
“No dear, it’s just your father wishes not to delay any longer. At Terania’s age both Myra and I were mothers,” Azalea said gently as Layana stood up and walked over to Terania, placing her arm around her. The elder girl was trembling and Layana knew that the news of her engagement being pushed earlier had shaken her, and now this must have shocked her even more so. She caressed her sisters back wishing she could do more to ease her troubled mind.
“Terania will be assisted by queen Myra herself to prepare for the wedding and all the correct traditions. The rest of you are to have lessons with Lady Miranda to prepare for your sister’s wedding,” Azalea said.
She knew the king wished to speak to both Cordelia and Layana about their futures too. After all, Cordelia was already eighteen and Layana would turn eighteen in a mere few weeks.
“Your father is busy with a council meeting for the entirety of the afternoon however he has requested us to join him for dinner. Two particularly important guests arrived yesterday, and he had made it clear that you are all to be on your best behaviour,”
The queens’ eyes flickered to Layana who pouted seeing this,
“Who are the guest's mother?” Cordelia asked
“Lord Aren of House Silver Mountain and Declan of House Storm,” Azalea said unsure why the sole heir to House Storm was not addressed as Duke.
“House Storm?” Cordelia asked her eyes wide, “From that cursed house…”
“Cordelia! He is an honoured guest of your fathers,” Azalea said as Cordelia nodded bowing her head in apology,
“I understand mother…. But… House Storm was wiped from our kingdoms noble houses was it not? Surely there was a reason why it is no longer even talked about,”
“Regardless of the fact it is not in the books, your father has never removed it from the official dukedoms,” Azalea said, “You will show him every respect you show Lord Aren,”
Cordelia nodded although she did not agree with her mothers’ view.
“Please remember your manners, for my sake, all of you,” Azalea said gently, and Layana pouted knowing when the queen used that card, she for one could not disobey her. She loved Azalea dearly and even though the woman did not give birth to her, she was her mother. She nodded, silently promising that she would behave well.
“Yes mother,” Cordelia said smiling eloquently as she tossed her long brown locks slightly.
“Who knows these men might be so very handsome,” Aurelia teased Cordelia knowing the brunette loved to meet handsome eligible young men every chance she got
“Behave,” Cordelia scolded her as the royal women all stood gracefully, each lost in their own thoughts.
Terania worrying about her upcoming marriage. Layana about her night-time adventure in search of the forbidden book Cordelia wanted and how to cheer Terania up and Cordelia wondering if this Lord Aren would be handsome, after all, she did not care for House Storm.
'Layana…' a whispering voice sounded behind her, making the hair at the nape of her neck rise. She turned suddenly scanning the room, her heart hammering, what was that?
“Layana come,” Terania called and Layana nodded, perhaps she had just imagined it, she shivered as she stepped out of the room allowing the door to shut behind her…
Declan made his way through the palace halls after his training session with Aren, needing a bath and perhaps a drink. If there was one thing he appreciated about Ehlesaar it was its fine wine. He sighed inwardly wishing he could get rid of any thought to do with the woman in his mind. He walked without even caring for anyone around him. Ignoring the looks he received from several women.
He frowned as he saw a woman up ahead, blocking off the hall, flanked by two guards and a maid. Probably one of the princesses, Declan thought, a thought that was confirmed when two women curtsied to the brunette. As he glanced at her, he completely disagreed with Aren who had said all the princesses were beautiful, this one was nothing special in any way. She had straight brown hair, large grey eyes, a slender build with curves far less than her sister. He frowned pushing Layana from his mind, this princess was just a standard Ehlesian beauty. He continued on his walk ignoring the woman and her entourage making to pass by her.
Cordelia felt her heart skip a beat when she saw the handsome man approaching, a deep brooding frown on his face, his dark eyes so dark she wondered if they were fully black, curious to what they were like up close. His slight facial hair made him look even more appealing and his chin-length hair was slick wet, it was clear from the swords in hand, and the dirt on his pants that he had been training. But even sweaty and dirty he looked beyond godlike. Her stomach fluttered wondering who he was, surely if he was one of the warriors would he not live in the barracks? She had never seen a man who had looked so enticing as the one before her. She squared her shoulder waiting for him to stop and bow but instead, he ignored her and walked past her. Had he not seen her tiara?
“That man-” she began as her guard frowned
“Sire! This is princess Cordelia, please show your respect!” one of the men called loudly, Declan stopped his eyes cold as he looked ahead not turning back.
“Oh it's ok, may I know your name though my lord,” Cordelia said in a voice softer than her usually stronger tone.
“No, you may not. And I bow to no one,” Declan said arrogantly, his voice as cold and dangerous as the darkest storm.
“Sir that’s-!” the guard tried as Declan simply walked off,
“It's alright, it’s perfectly alright…” Cordelia said a small smile crossing her lips. This man had caught her attention and she would find out who he was, surely he must belong to some nobility house if he resided within the palace, but she already knew the noble knights in the centre army who resided at the palace. Perhaps he was a visitor.
She licked her lips without even realising it, her grey eyes clouded with a sudden infatuation for the man who had not even spared her a second glance. She turned and continued on her way.
“Anakin, please find out who that was, I do not want you to say anything to anyone, but just find out his name,” she said waving at him to leave. He bowed low
“Yes your highness,” he said bowing before leaving swiftly to do his princesses bidding.
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
“You wanted to see me,” Declan said once he had entered the king’s office not caring to bow, the anger that rolled off him filled the air of the circular room thickly. Through the bars, the window was cracked open, the sound of distant sounds in the palace courtyards filtered into the otherwise silent office. The king looked at him wondering if now was the best time to put the proposal forward. But perhaps the offer would calm the man down... “Ah yes take a seat Declan,” Evaan said, it had been just over an hour since he spoke to Layana and had finally calmed himself down. Having sent the word that no one was to train the princess at any cost. He had then had a drink of wine before summoning Declan knowing he would be taking a break from training around now. Declan looked at the seat “I'm fine standing,” he said directly disobeying the king. Evaan frowned slightly but said nothing. If it was anyone else he would be punished. It was clear the Storm bloodline ran through the man befor