“Tilia,” Esmeralda called, pulling me out of my daydreaming about how I first came here six years ago. She was wearing a beautiful emerald ball gown and was by far the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Even as similar as we looked I wasn’t as beautiful as her. My nose was too short, my eyes shaped more like my father’s than hers, and as much as I wanted to believe I was beautiful, I could see the flaws in myself more often than my beauty. “What are you thinking about?” she asked as she stood beside me on the edge of the ballroom. People swirled around us in a vortex of rainbow colored silk and jewels.
“Just remembering the day I came here,” I explained.
“I know life is so boring here,” she said with a dramatic sigh.
I laughed and hugged her. “I love it here. I just miss my dad.”
“So I really came over here to see if you wanted to sneak off with me and spar? This ball is really boring,” she whispered in my ear.
I looked at the Queen, a fierce woman who was one of the best mages in all of the kingdoms, one of the only two Arch Mages, an exceptional sword fighter, and married to a man who won every tournament he entered. This country was unlike any I could have imagined. Instead of the Queen sitting in the castle and the King letting his military fight his battles from the safety of his castle, both of them set off into battle at the head of their military and bled right along with them. Women were allowed to join the military and it was even encouraged! I thought I would be stuck in a dusty castle, but instead I had been instructed in magic, reading, politics, and every fighting style available. I was already a Journeyman, but my hope was to become an Arch Mage, like my aunt, although I wasn’t sure it would happen since I seemed to have very little magic. It seemed more likely that I would progress in the King’s Steel, the men and women who preferred hand to hand combat to magic, instead of the Queen’s Fire, the men and women who possessed magic.
“Let’s go,” I said to her with a wide smile. I looped my arm through hers and we walked through the ballroom as though strolling through it and then ran to our rooms to change. I walked out of my room, closed my door, and found that she was already waiting for me. “Did anyone see you?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “We better hurry before Jared…”
“Before Jared what?” asked King Jared from the main floor below us. He had dark brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and a chiseled jaw. Everywhere he went women stopped breathing for a moment as they took in his appearance. His good looks paired with his fighting honed physique made him a heart stopper. He also stopped the hearts of men when he approached because he was the most feared fighter in all of the kingdoms. He had obtained the highest rank in the King’s Steel before becoming King and was the one and only Dragon of Crilan.
“We’ve been found!” Esmeralda hissed. “Retreat!” She grabbed my hand and we both ran down the stairs and towards the door that led to the training grounds at the back of the castle.
“Halt!” Jared yelled.
I stopped, but Esmeralda pulled on my arm, “Your Queen commands you to ignore the King!”
I giggled and kept running with her. She reached for the doorknob and opened it to find Jared on the other side.
“Curse your swiftness!” she yelled with mock anger.
He smirked at us, blocked the doorway with his wide shoulders, and asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be at a ball? A ball that I am forced to attend as well?”
“It’s so boring!” Esmeralda whined, transforming into a spoiled child as she pouted at her husband.
“So you and Tilia were sneaking off to go have fun while your poor husband and King was left to endure the boringness alone?” he asked as though we had betrayed him.
“You could come with us?” I suggested with a smile and bounced on the balls of my feet.
He looked at me a moment and said, “She is definitely from your bloodline, Esmeralda.”
She beamed proudly and said, “I know. It’s glorious, isn’t it?”
“People will notice that you are gone,” he scolded Esmeralda.
She stuck out her bottom lip in a pout and said, “Please.”
He sighed and placed his hand on her face. “Alright. Go have fun. I will be the responsible adult for tonight.”
She kissed his cheek and said, “Next boring event I will let you sneak out.”