Kiss of the Fey
Johara stormed away from the balcony, slamming the glass door and making a dramatic entrance into the ballroom. Most of the guests ignored her, but the queen caught her eye and beckoned her over.
“Johara dear, what is this fuss about?” her stepmother asked. She sipped at her drink and kept a smile on her face. The queen was dressed in a smooth silk dress covered in pearls and gems of many colors. Her hair was tucked away without a single strand out of place.
Johara’s dress was ruffled and torn at the strap. She knew that her turban had come askew as well. “A man tried to take advantage of me on the balcony,” Johara said. Belinda shushed her, drawing her back further from the crowd of people.
“Quiet dear,” she hissed. “There’s a party going on. We wouldn’t want news of you losing your flower out on the balcony to spread.”
“I’m sorry Mother, but I think I’ll retire to my room now,” Johara replied. “And I’ll take my flower with me.”
“If you wish to be a princess you must at least try to act like one. You’ll stay here and dance with all the men who want to grope you and you won’t say another word about it. Stop letting them corner you.”
“I am a princess,” Johara snapped. She glanced over at her father, but King Damon too busy talking to a wealthy landowner to come to her defense. She didn’t notice as her older sister floated through the crowd to sneak up behind her.
“Hardly, Johara. You’re lucky we even let you attend the balls. You should be cleaning up after them.” Johara turned to see the sneer on her sister’s face. She stuck her tongue out at her. “See? Acting like a dirty peasant. What are you whining about this time? Another man attack you? If you would just let them you’d be married and out of our hair already.”
“Cecilia, no fighting,” Belinda said halfheartedly. She looked around the room. “We’re causing a scene. Johara, I don’t want to hear any more complaining.” She looked down at her. “Clean yourself up.”
“Yes, little bastard, clean yourself up,” Cecilia said. “We don’t want you dirty for the next man you entertain.” She blew Johara a kiss and blended back with the crowd, no doubt returning to her fat husband to gloat over her small victory.
Johara grit her teeth and left the room. She didn’t care if Belinda saw or if she’d be yelled at in the morning; she was going to bed. She tried to shake off what her sister had said. After all, her sisters said things like that all the time. That was all she’d heard when growing up. She was lucky most of her sisters had married and moved away from the castle.
King Damon, being the magnanimous man that he was, had allowed Johara to share the surname Martima. He’d given her the title of Princess and had insisted that she live in the castle like proper royalty when she had been born. That particular scandal had happened after her father had fallen in love with one of the maids, had his way with her, then been dumped with a baby and a dead mistress when Johara’s mother had died during childbirth. Belinda, who’d had affairs with every unmarried member of the Royal Guard—not to mention some of the married ones—had accepted Johara with nothing more than a sigh. Johara’s six half-sisters just hadn’t been so kind.
Johara allowed herself to relax when she got to her room. Here was her sanctuary, the one place where no one could disturb her. She changed into her nightclothes and went out onto her balcony. No men would find their way there to try and grope her in the dark. She was never surprised when it happened, only angered. How dare they touch her like she wasn’t a real princess? Just because she was only half-royal didn’t mean she didn’t deserve the same respect as her sisters. Or her brother, for that matter.
The warm summer breeze caused Johara’s hair to whip around in the wind. The smell of the garden floated up to her balcony and she inhaled the scent, smiling. Blairford was the southernmost kingdom in the continent, so the gardens were in bloom year round. Three-quarters of the border of Blairford was beautiful shoreline. Johara enjoyed walking along the cliffs on nice days when no one was accusing her of being a dirty peasant.
She heard a noise from the cliffs below and ignored it, figuring that it was just something clacking around in the wind. Tomorrow the castle would finally be quiet again. The guests would leave and Johara’s sisters would return home. Johara liked when the castle was full, but it sometimes became too much for her. If they could only invite females to the castle she would happily stay at the ball the whole night long. Men were the ones that ruined things for her.
There was a noise beside her and Johara looked to see if one of the maids had slipped into her room. She saw nothing and felt paranoid; she must have been jumpy from her last unwanted encounter. However, something unseen brushed past her. Johara opened her mouth to yell for the guards. A hand covered her mouth and pulled her against a large body with a thump.
“Hello, Princess,” a voice hissed in her ear.
Her chest seized in fear, but she thrashed wildly to try and escape her attacker. Her arms were quickly pinned to her side and a blade was brought to her throat. She could feel the blade, but she saw no arm holding it there. She couldn’t see anyone on the balcony with her. Johara feared that she was going insane.
“What are you? What do you want?” Johara tried to ask. All that came through was pitiful mumbling. The grip on her jaw tightened, becoming painful. She wondered if it was possible for someone to shatter her jaw merely by gripping it.
“Afraid?” the voice asked. “How rude of us.” The man chuckled and three men flashed into view. The one who had spoken was standing in front of her with the dagger to her throat. Out of the corner of her eyes she could see that it was an enormous man who held her from behind. A third man was going inside her room to secure the door from the inside. Each of them wore black cloth over the bottom of their faces and each of them terrified the princess.
“Better now?” the man with the blade asked. Johara tried to shake her head in the negative, but the grip on her jaw was too strong. She whimpered in pain as tears came to her eyes. “Oh, poor thing. We’re hurting her. Loosen up your grip. Wouldn’t want to crush her pretty little skull.” He paused and leaned in closer. “Just promise me not to scream, Princess, or I’ll have to cut your throat,” he whispered.
Johara shivered as the large man released her head. “What do you want?” Johara asked. She was suddenly aware of the fact that her struggle with the men had pushed the bodice of her sleeping gown down to reveal quite a bit of bare chest. She looked down in horror at her indecency. The man with the blade grinned.
“That is not what we’ve come for,” he said. “We’ve come seeking a king’s ransom for the kingdom of Yacia.” The man laughed. “At least, that’s what-”
“Shut up! We can’t let her know the plan in case she wakes up,” the second man said.
“She won’t wake up.” The first man rolled his eyes. “Give me the message,” he said. The second man pulled a roll of parchment out and unfurled it. He then stuck a blade in it, pushed the note to the hilt of the dagger, and handed it over to the man kneeling beside her. Johara opened her mouth to beg for her life when her jaw was seized by the large man behind her. She barely managed a squeak.
“We haven’t got much time,” the second man said, strolling to the window. “The guards are almost done changing shifts.”
“A moment,” the first man snapped back. He held two blades to Johara, one at her throat and one at her stomach. She was able to look down and see that the second dagger had odd symbols carved into it. A moment later it was sitting in her gut, pushed up to the hilt. For a small second, she didn’t feel the pain, but then it came rushing at her as blood gushed out of the fresh wound. She uttered a muffled cry of agony as tears came to her eyes.
“This is much nicer than kidnapping. Don’t you think so, Princess?” the man asked, twisting the dagger. “Not to worry,” he said lightly, “this won’t kill you. You see, this will put you into an enchanted sleep. You’ll be able to feel everything, including this blade, and unless the ransom is paid to us I won’t remove the blade or break the spell… It’s just too bad that they’re never going to pay your ransom.” The room around Johara started growing dark, and she felt herself becoming slowly paralyzed. She realized with horror that she could feel her legs but not move them, and that the pain in her stomach remained, yet she couldn’t flex the muscles there. “It’s all in this note here. I hope someone finds you quickly, the note is soaking up the blood. It looks like you’ll be cursed like this for the rest of your miserable life.”
The man behind her released her mouth, but she found that her vocal cords were also not responding. The large man picked her up like a doll and carried her to her bed, placing her head on the pillow. The man then shut Johara’s eyes, rendering her blind. She could have been peacefully sleeping if it hadn’t been for the dagger poking out of her.
She felt the large man move off the bed and heard him shuffle towards the window.
“We must go. Now.”
“Sweet dreams, Princess.” Johara heard the other two men begin to descend from the balcony. “Though I feel that this may be more of a nightmare.”
As Johara felt the dagger pulsing in her flesh, she could only silently agree, wishing that she would wake up at any moment.
Johara was having the oddest dream. A fairy had come to visit her. For some reason she couldn’t see the fairy, but she knew she was there.
“I can’t do anything for the pain,” the fairy said, “but this should help. My gift is of hope. Your savior will come and his kiss will release you from your curse. Do not let the pain crush you, my dear, for help is coming. I give you my word.”
Johara had wanted to ask what good a fairy’s word was, but even in her dream she couldn’t talk. Then the fairy had left, and Johara had only the pain to focus on, and she promptly cursed the dream for making her hope for something better.
Xenos scowled as he looked down onto the beach. Orion was standing at the tide line, teetering along on his staff and looking every bit the old fool that he was. Deep wrinkles ran down his face, and his skin hung off of his bony frame. He was tall and stooped, with hands so gnarled they looked like claws. Even at a distance, Xenos could see Orion’s bright blue eyes, eyes could have belonged to a newborn baby.
Scowling at the twinkle in those blue eyes, Xenos slowly led his horse down the cliffs until he reached the sand. At his command, Xenos’s men waited for him above as he approached the old warlock. By the time he had ridden down the beach, Orion was bent over, leaning heavily on his staff to look for seashells.
“Why hello! The beach is always lovely this time of year, wouldn’t you say?” Orion asked, his deep voice booming. His robes were in surprisingly good condition considering his long journey. However, he was barefoot. Xenos shook his head at the old man’s foolishness.
“You’ve gone too far this time,” Xenos said, riding up and dropping from his horse. Orion had fled so far south that they were in the kingdom of Blairford, the southernmost kingdom in Arium. Their home Malum was the northernmost kingdom. Xenos had not enjoyed the chase, nor did he enjoy the climate. It felt as if he was swimming through the air, and already he could feel the sand from the wind getting all through his clothing. The horses didn’t like the change in weather either, and their progress had slowed the further south they’d gone. They were mountain-bred horses, meant to stay in the mountains. Xenos himself felt sure that he hadn’t been meant to leave the cold peaks either.
“Or not far enough,” Orion said. He turned and smiled at Xenos, holding a large seashell in one hand. “It is your first time here, is it not? Perhaps you should enjoy yourself.”
Xenos grit his teeth. The waves of the ocean were choppy and full of white. The sky was overcast and there was lightening in the distance. Xenos felt satisfaction in the fact that the weather was reflecting his mood rather nicely, even if that meant that there was a good chance him and his men would be caught in the storm. “Must I use force to move you?”
“No, no, of course not,” Orion said, smiling. He started handing the seashell to Xenos. Xenos almost took it before he saw the gleam in Orion’s eyes. His eyes said, “Yes, trust me,” but the gleam said, “Trusting me could be your biggest mistake”.
“What have you done to it?” Xenos asked. Old, dried-up warlock that he was, Orion still had some magic in him. In his prime, Orion would enchant various objects with very powerful spells. He could enchant a crown to induce obedience from a king’s subjects or make a ring that would transport the wearer to any destination he wished. Now, Orion had the ability to enchant a seashell to give a nasty shock to whoever touched it. Xenos had learned to be wary.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” Orion said unconvincingly. He shoved the seashell into Xenos’s hand. “Just a trinket, that’s all. Wouldn’t you carry it for me? It’s amazing what you can hear with it.” Nothing happened, so Xenos slipped the shell into the pouch hanging from his belt. Nearby, his horse made a noise as it studied the waves curiously. “I’ve missed the sea. It’s so pleasant here.”
“Is it? I hadn’t noticed.” Xenos looked out at the waves as the wind whipped sand into his face. He shivered and ignored the look Orion gave him. Even there, he was cold. He had never gone so far south because he had wanted some hope left that the heat could warm him. Yet at a temperature that would make any other man sweat, Xenos and his frozen heart were completely unaffected.
“So, have we any plans?” Orion asked pleasantly as Xenos lifted the old man up to his own horse.
“Yes,” Xenos growled. “We’re going home.”
“Oh, certainly not.” Orion shook his head. A lone colorful bird flew overhead, crying out and drawing Xenos’s attention. The south was a strange place.
“What would you propose we do?” Xenos asked after a pause. Orion smiled at him as Xenos walked the horse and the old man up the cliff. His men were waiting for him impatiently. He knew that they didn’t understand his dealings with Orion, and that they very much wished he’d kill the old warlock—or that the old warlock would kill him—but Xenos was used to people not approving of him or his actions. After all, it was only the promise of gold that kept his men in line. Not respect.
Another horse was provided when Xenos came to the top, and Xenos hopped up and allowed Orion to take control of his own. He narrowed his eyes at the white-haired warlock. He’d escaped from the castle and led the king on a wild goose chase that lasted half the year, but now that it was time to go home he acted as if the entire ordeal was nothing more than a jaunty afternoon ride.
“To the castle, then?” Orion asked, already pointing his mount in the right general direction. Xenos shook his head. They were within half a day’s ride from the Castle Blairford, but he had no desire to pay the king a visit. Orion’s antics had been enough for him to deal with.
“Home,” Xenos snapped. He’d lost his patience. Already he’d wasted so much time. He thought that Orion had understood, but apparently not. To think that he’d become friends with the warlock, prisoner or not, was as foolish as thinking his subjects would suddenly stop hating him or that the lands of Malum would suddenly prosper.
“Your Highness,” Orion said, getting Xenos’s attention, “we should pay the royal family a visit. I must insist. What harm could it do, just one night?”
“What harm could it do?” Xenos asked. They had miles of citrus orchards to go before they could even stop at an inn. Then it was a week until they were free of Blairford and a good portion of a month to traverse the continent until they reached the mountains that made the border of his kingdom, which took at least two weeks to cross. From there, it would take at least ten days to make it back to Xenos’s castle. Two months total, at least. More if there was bad weather, if something happened to the horses, if any of the mountain passes became blocked, or if they decided upon an unwanted surprise visit to the royal family of the kingdom they were visiting.
“No harm at all, I assure you!” Orion exclaimed. He kicked his horse into a trot and began bouncing towards the castle. Xenos’s men watched with disdain. Orion was a lucky fool. Had Xenos not tracked him down, he’d likely have been swept out to sea during a nap. Xenos urged his horse to catch up and he deftly took a hold of Orion’s reins.
“Why are you so intent on this?” Xenos asked. Most of the time Orion acted as if he was completely mad, but Xenos knew it was an act. Orion had helped warn Xenos of invaders that had come from the northern sea, and Xenos had been able to stop them before they’d even landed their ships. Orion had forced Xenos to prepare a much larger stockpile of supplies before a particularly vicious winter that could have put the entire castle in fear of starving, with no way in or out to get more food. Orion never told Xenos how he knew these things, but Xenos had a strong suspicion it had something to do with the smooth black orb that Orion wore around his neck, despite Orion’s insistence that it was merely a token from a lover.
“A storm is coming! And I heard the royal family is throwing a ball! When is the last time you enjoyed yourself?” Orion asked. He also made Xenos do stupid things just for his amusement, like the time he almost got Xenos eaten by a wyvern, when he’d blown up half the eastern tower of his castle, or the time he made Xenos chase him across the continent to go to a ball. Taming a dragon had been easier than trying to understand Orion.
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Or perhaps this will give you more time,” Orion replied. He winked, grabbed the reins back, and started galloping away. Xenos glared after him. Why couldn’t the man just talk sense?
“Your Highness, what are we to do? A storm is coming.” Xenos turned to look at his men—at the King’s Guard. They were all the same. Big, strong men with wide noses, blue eyes, and pale skin. They wore black cloaks and thin chain mail, with swords hanging at their sides. Black stallions stood patiently underneath them, not so much as taking a single nip at a neighbor while awaiting commands. Xenos hadn’t picked them because they were a matched set, but because they were reliable men who followed orders. Even if they thought the orders they were following were senseless.
“Should we capture the prisoner and seek shelter before the storm hits?” one of the men asked. Xenos shook his head, ignoring the resulting expression on his men’s faces. He didn’t care if they approved of his decision.
“We’ll spend the night at the Castle Blairford,” Xenos said. He looked out over the ocean and saw the rain in the distance. They probably couldn’t have made it to the inn in time anyways. “Come now, we best catch up with Orion.”
Johara was floating in a sea of pain. Flashes of clarity would hit her—she’d overhear some maids talking, or she’d feel the sheets below her being changed—before she was sucked under the impossible wall of agony that had become her life.
She’d heard the guards tell her father that they hadn’t seen anyone come or go from her room, she’d heard the physician tell her father that there was nothing he could do, she’d heard the magician tell her father that she was going to die, and then she’d heard Belinda tell her father just to leave her there and forget about her. That he’d listened hurt more than the dagger itself.
She remembered when she was little and her father used to hold her on his lap as they looked out over the sea. “You look just like your mother,” he would tell her. He would brush her hair and read her stories, something he never did with her other sisters. He’d been her best friend growing up, but now she was nothing to him.
“-and he ruined the ball,” a maid was saying as the door to Johara’s room opened.
“Such a shame. You’d think that a visiting king would make things livelier,” a second maid said.
“Oh, if only you’d have been there! I saw the whole thing. The king rode up to the gates just before the storm hit and demanded entry, said he was on a quest with his magician and needed shelter for the night. Well, the ball had already started, and they couldn’t hide it from him, so they invited him in and gave him a change of clothes and he just stood in the corner with his arms crossed, talking to his magician friend.”
“He’s friends with a magician? And I thought King Damon was improper, what with-!”
“Shhh, she’s right there!” a third maid exclaimed. Johara heard the other maids giggle. Judging by the other sounds they were making, they were cleaning her room.
“Oh, she can’t hear us, dearie. You’ll get used to it. She just lies there all day, sleeping peacefully. Poor thing.”
“You really think she can’t hear us?”
“I know it. Now, the ball?”
“Oh yes, so the king was standing there in the corner, he scared off all the servants he did, and when one young lady got too far away from her husband he asked her to dance and she fell away in a dead faint!”
“She did! You would’ve too if you’d have been in her position! Bless me, I’ve never seen a more frightful looking man. Those scars, those eyes, oh! I can’t stand having him here about the castle. I feel as if he’s going to pop around one of the corners and slit my throat.”
Johara tensed inwardly as she felt her bedding being moved. The maids continued talking as they shifted her around. Every tiny little movement send a bolt of pain to her gut, which radiated through her entire body. She wished for an end to the pain, though it only got worse. She wished for death, though it would not come. She wished for someone to make it all stop, but no one was there to help her.
Xenos scowled. The servants jumped every time he spoke to them. He was having dinner in the Great Hall, along with the royal family and a collection of nobles, but the full room did nothing to keep people’s attention away from the fearsome king. Xenos noticed Orion’s amused look and glared at him. He should have known that his reputation would follow him.
“So, the storm should break overnight,” Cadmus said from across the table. Cadmus was shirtless, with only a strip of fabric throw over his shoulder to hide his chest. He wore loose silk trousers that ended at the calf with a silk scarf that had been wrapped around his head many times. There were gold bangles on his arms that symbolized that he was the crown prince. From what Xenos had seen, all of the nobles of Blairford dressed this way, though the women wore silk dresses and much more jewels. The servants dressed similarly, though their clothing wasn’t of the same fine quality. Xenos thought them all to be very odd. He would be happy when he returned to his own kingdom.
“The storms can last much longer sometimes, so you’re lucky this is a small one,” the boy continued. Xenos learned that Cadmus was actually older than himself but his sickness made him seem younger and more vulnerable, which meant that Xenos could only think of him as a boy. Xenos had also learned that after Damon had realized that his boy was what he was, he’d tried to produce a better heir, ending up with seven daughters. The first six daughters had been married off to the nobility of Blairford or princes of nearby kingdoms, but the seventh daughter was mysteriously absent in their conversations. Xenos had wondered about her only until he’d overheard that she had been an illegitimate child. Xenos guessed that she’d be locked up and kept from sight until the visitors were gone.
Bitterly, Xenos watched as Cadmus’s wife, Rosabel, caught his goblet before he knocked it over and spilled it. Cadmus smiled at her before continuing. “You’re welcome to stay longer if you want, but you did mention being in a hurry.”
Xenos saw King Damon glare at his son. What a disappointment he must have been. Xenos knew how Cadmus must have felt. After all, his own father had hated him so much that he’d tried to have Xenos killed. Multiple times.
“We’ll be leaving as soon as we are able,” Xenos said. His men had been staying with the Blairford guards, but he knew they were anxious to leave, uncomfortable at being in such a strange place.
“No doubt you want to get away as soon as possible,” Damon said, giving him a fake smile.
“You’re probably not used to weather like this, are you, Your Highness?” Belinda asked, giving an even less sincere smile than her husband. As if he could have forgotten the weather, with the wind howling around the castle and the servants who would come inside soaked to the bone.
“Xenos, please,” Xenos said. He didn’t like being called “Your Highness” because he felt that whenever someone called him that they usually wished for his death. A great many people addressed him as such.
“Of course,” Belinda said for the third time. Xenos knew she wouldn’t use his name, and he found himself wishing for the dinner to be over. The queen reminded him of his mother.
Soon enough, the food was cleared away. Damon invited Xenos to stay for some frivolous entertainment or another—he hadn’t paid much attention to the invitation—but Xenos had excused himself and left the Great Hall. Orion had followed and they were halfway to their rooms when Orion suddenly stopped. As he’d already been falling behind, Xenos turned to urge him to hurry up when Orion rubbed at his necklace.
“Here,” Orion said. Xenos sighed. He knew Orion got off on being mysterious and playing games with him. He was a warlock, after all. He was made of mischief and trickery.
“It’s times like these when I think you really are mad,” Xenos said. He looked around. There was a door and some shuttered clerestories. The castle was built to be open, with lots of arches, windows, and large spaces. Because of the storm, the castle had been shut off with large shutters, making the inside very stuffy and uncomfortable, but very safe from the storm. Aside from the strange architecture, Xenos had also noticed the strange stone that had been used in building the castle. It was bright white with different colored streaks running through it, and it had a natural grace to it. Xenos could see the impact the storm had on the overall beauty of the building, as every once in a while there would be a hallway that led to nothing but a giant bronze door that was clearly meant to be left open, but he still couldn’t tolerate the place.
“What’s here?” Xenos asked when it was clear that Orion wasn’t going to elaborate any further. He noticed that he tended to indulge Orion more when the two of them were alone, and he made a note to stop being alone with Orion. The warlock had spent so much time pretending to be insane that his mind was well and truly gone.
“The answer,” Orion said.
“To what question?”
Orion sighed impatiently. “I’m not going to hold your hand. I’ve brought you this far. Just open the door,” he snapped. Xenos raised an eyebrow. “Your Highness,” he added. Xenos glared at him and reached for the door just as three women came out.
“Oh!” one of them exclaimed, dropping everything she was holding. The other two, similarly shocked, stared at him in horror. He saw their eyes dart to the left side of his face. It was times like these that he was reminded how gruesome he looked, how the twin scars that ran from his temple to his jaw marred what could have been a handsome face. Then he watched as their eyes went to the other scar, the one that wasn’t as noticeable: the bite mark on his neck that the accursed fairy had healed to keep him alive. He turned to glare at Orion, ready to see his amusement, but Orion’s face was appropriate for a funeral.
“We’re sorry to have shocked you, but we heard about Princess Johara’s sad condition and wondered if we might pay our respects,” Orion said. Xenos had to choke back his surprise. To his confusion, the maids—who had recovered from their shock and were starting to pick up their things— seemed to understand whatever Orion was talking about.
“Of-of course,” one of the maids said. “Y-Your Highness, you wish to see the princess? She can’t talk, or wake up-”
“Yes,” Xenos said. He looked past the maids and saw a bedchamber. So this was where the mysterious seventh daughter was? “If I may?”
“Of course,” the maid said again. She curtsied, perhaps realizing that she should have done so earlier, and let the fearsome king through.
“He finds the entire situation very sad,” Orion explained. “We only wish to visit for a moment.”
“Take your time,” the maid said, ducking away. The three of them curtsied again and took off. As Orion was closing the door behind him, Xenos heard one of them say “What if he kills her?”
“She’s said to be unkillable, so I wouldn’t worry,” Orion said to him. He arranged his robes—still the same ones he’d been traveling in, though they’d been cleaned—and sat down, looking at the sleeping girl in the bed.
“What are you talking about?” Xenos asked quietly. Why had they come into a sleeping princess’s bedchamber? And why had the maids allowed them in? What had they meant by she can’t wake up? Xenos expected the guards to be on them at any minute, ready to throw them outside into the storm.
“Why don’t you look at her?” Orion suggested. Xenos scowled at him and looked at the sleeping girl. She was very pretty, with a soft face and tan skin. It took a moment to register, but he finally noticed the dagger poking out of her stomach.
“I heard the maids talking,” Orion explained. “Someone broke into the castle, stabbed the princess, and left. There was a note left with the dagger, but the enchantments from the dagger hadn’t stopped the bleeding until the note was already soaked through and unreadable. Everyone guesses that it was a kidnapping plot gone wrong. Now the princess won’t wake up, yet she won’t die. The dagger is cursed and can’t be removed. I fear that she’s in a great deal of pain.”
Xenos felt a small amount of sympathy for the girl, but he was overwhelmingly confused. His biggest question was why Orion had brought him here. “Is the dagger yours?” Xenos asked. Had this all been to fix the warlock’s mistake?
“Not mine, no, but it’s familiar,” Orion said. He got up from the chair and went to the bed. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Thought about what?” Xenos asked impatiently. “What are you talking about? Why did you bring me here?”
“I recognize these carvings, but I can’t remember why,” the first voice said.
“So now your memory is going along with your sanity?” The second voice paused. “We should get back to our rooms. Someone will find us here and then you’ll really be a prisoner.”
“No, no, we can’t go yet.” Johara wondered if she was dreaming again. She didn’t have a great number of dreams in this state, but she could tell the difference between sleeping and her pretend sleep. The pain from the dagger told her that she wasn’t sleeping, but the voices told her otherwise. Why else would two strange men have stumbled into her room?
“Then what do you propose we do? Violate the sleeping princess? Steal the silver? Brew some tea and tell our fortunes?”
“Calm down, Your Highness,” the first voice said. Johara could feel him hovering around her, and she relaxed when he moved away. She didn’t know what he wanted or who he was, but she didn’t want him touching the dagger. No one knew how much it had hurt when they’d tried taking the dagger out by force, and she didn’t care to repeat the experience.
“Orion,” the second voice snapped.
“Your Highness,” the first voice repeated. Johara wondered if the second voice was really royalty, but by the tone of the first voice she doubted it. She wished they’d introduce themselves. A living corpse was rarely shown such courtesy, she’d learned.
“Fine. Do your business so we can get out of here, preferably before the maids send word to the king that we’re remurdering his daughter.” Johara wondered if she should be concerned, but the tone of the man’s voice held no hint of a threat. It was nothing like the man who’d stabbed her. The men both sounded like nobles at the very least, so perhaps one of them were royalty.
“It isn’t my business. It’s yours.”
“You need an heir, correct?”
There was a weighted pause. “If you think this is what I meant by ‘I’ll do anything’…” Johara flinched inwardly at the anger in his voice. She had no doubt that the expression on his face was furious.
“Calm down, my boy, you misread me,” the first voice cut in.
“Did I?” the second voice asked quietly.
“I meant that if you were able to break the curse and wake the princess, her parents would likely thank you and give permission for the two of you to wed. You could then take her back to Malum and produce an heir.” There was another pause. “…with a fully consenting bride.”
“Yes, thank you for clarifying,” the second voice snapped. Johara heard the first one sigh. When the second man spoke again, he sounded much calmer. “And why would I be able to break the curse?”
“You’ve heard the story of the princess who was woken by true love’s first kiss?”
“No,” the man snapped, but Johara had. A princess was locked away high up in a tower guarded by a dragon because her parents feared that the princess would get herself into trouble before she could be wed. The princess was angry and bored and tried to escape the tower many times before her parents finally asked a fairy to put the princess into an enchanted sleep. For years and years the princess slept, and many men tried to get past the dragon to kiss the princess, for it was said that the one who woke the princess would marry her, but the dragon killed them all. One day, a prince came from far away, and he killed the dragon and scaled the tower and found the princess peacefully sleeping. He kissed her on the lips and the princess woke up and married him, and they lived happily ever after.
Johara had never liked the story. She’d always thought that if she’d been that princess, she never would have let herself be so helpless, but that had been before she’d found herself in the position of a princess in some absurd fairy tale.
“Lovely story, it’s a shame you haven’t heard it, but the basic tale is that there was a sleeping princess who could only be woken by a kiss,” the first man said.
“I don’t have time for bedtime stories. She’s not sleeping, she’s cursed, and I’m not going to kiss her,” the second man said. Johara inwardly sighed with relief. She didn’t know if the men were joking or not, but she didn’t want them kissing her. The man who stabbed her said that only he could save her, so she wasn’t going to put any hope in a fairy tale having the answer to her problems.
“When’s the last time you kissed a pretty girl?”
“I don’t know… but I’m certain that that girl was awake and fully alert. Why don’t you kiss her if you’re so certain it will work?”
“I can’t kiss her. Honestly, Xenos.” Johara tried to think. Xenos… where had she heard that name?
“Well you’re mad if you think I’m going to.”
“Just do it. You won’t get many more chances to get an heir. Your time is running out quickly.”
“Not that quickly. I’m leaving now.”
“Orion, we’re leaving now. The guards are going to find us. If they find you in here by yourself, I’m sure you’ll be able to claim insanity, but I’m going back to my room. I’m tired and I’m going to bed.”
“Fine,” the first man said. He sounded very sad. The men said nothing more, but Johara heard the door open and shut and she knew she was alone once more. It took her a few moments to remember the name Xenos, and her eyes would have flown open in surprise if they’d been able to. What was the king of Malum doing in her bedchamber?
It was then, while wondering what she would have done if King Xenos had kissed her, that she remembered her dream about the fairy, and she wondered what bad luck she had if the most feared king in all the land was supposed to be her savior.
It was the middle of the night and Xenos couldn’t sleep. He’d fallen asleep just fine after returning to his room, but he’d woken up to eerie silence, silence that confirmed that the storm had broken and that he’d be clear to ride out tomorrow. The silence was playing tricks on him. He shivered, despite the layers he was wearing and the blanket he had pulled around him, and he cursed again the fairy that had frozen his heart.
“Babe who’s not yet seen the world
Babe who’s not yet boy or girl
I warned your parents well and fair
Now I’ll curse their only heir
Ice will flow throughout your veins
I’ll make your parents feel my pain”
That was the part of the curse that had frozen him, left him cold to the world. The fairy that had cursed him had left the poem magically carved above his parent’s bed, unable to be removed, as a reminder for all of her wrath. He could never be warm enough, no matter what he did, no matter how close to a fire he got or how many layers he wore, and so he lived a wretched life as he’d found no way as of yet to break the curse.
Xenos cocked his ears as he heard something again. He swore it was a voice, yet he’d checked the halls and found not a single servant or guard. He knew it wasn’t a natural sound, and it kept him on edge. After laying on the bed for hours, pretending like he didn’t hear it, Xenos finally got up and began searching the room for the noise, intent on finding a logical reason behind it.
He found nothing strange until he found the pouch he’d brought with him. Warily, he picked it up and the noise became a bit more recognizable. It was definitely a voice. He opened his bag, ready for something to jump out, but the only thing out of the ordinary was the seashell Orion had given him to hold on the beach. He pulled it out suspiciously and put his pouch down.
It was a voice whispering. A female voice. He was torn between putting his ear to it to hear what it was and bashing it against the floor until the voice stopped. His curiosity won out, and he brought it to the side of his head, wondering if he was about to lose an ear.
“It hurts, why does it hurt? What did I do to deserve this? Or maybe I did deserve it. I was always wretched to my sisters…” Xenos frowned. What was he hearing? “Maybe I’m going mad… I wish I’d go mad. But if I think that fairies are visiting me, along with Xenos the Horrid, then maybe I am mad. I always thought being mad would be more interesting.” Paranoid, Xenos looked around. Who was this, whispering into his ear? What was it? Another one of Orion’s tricks? “Oh, can’t it stop for one second? I’m so tired of this. What if I stay my whole life like this? Longer than my whole life? They never found the note… maybe the man will come back, or maybe someone will kill him and the pain will stop, or maybe I’ll die…”
Xenos pulled the shell away and looked at it. Who was he hearing? Was it the princess? Why would the princess be speaking through Orion’s seashell? She was asleep, wasn’t she? So how was she talking?
More confused than ever, he put the shell back to his ear. “… really was a fairy. Maybe a prince will come and save me with true love’s first kiss. I’d let a million men kiss me if it meant I’d be released from this nightmare.
“I only wish I could finally die. I know no one’s going to save me. I just want to die.”
Without realizing at first what he was doing, Xenos rose and went to the door. Using the low light of the torches on the walls, he found his way back to the princess’s room. Luckily, he encountered no one—he didn’t know what he’d say if he had—and he silently slipped into the princess’s bedchamber. She was lying exactly where she’d been earlier.
“-someone come in? I thought it was nighttime… I hope they don’t change the bedding, I don’t think it’s been that long already… but I don’t know anymore. Maybe it’s the king, come to rescue me. Or maybe it’s the fairy, ready to give me the gift of fair hair, or flight, or better hearing—something useful, unlike her first ‘gift’.”
Xenos took the shell away from his ear. It was the princess, no doubt about it. He walked to the bed slowly. If it didn’t work, he’d have Orion’s head. He bent over, ignoring the whispering of the shell, but then he paused and cleared his throat.
“Princess Johara, I’m King Xenos Alkat of Malum,” he said, feeling ridiculous. At least if she couldn’t hear him, then he was the only one to witness his foolishness. “I’ve been led to believe that if I kiss you, your curse will be lifted. I don’t think it will work, but I think I heard you, and…” Xenos trailed off. If she could hear him, she was going to think he was insane.
Johara felt him leaning down. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he informed her, and Johara readied herself, still convinced that he was a figment of her imagination. But then, a second later, his lips were on hers. She could only register that they were cold before they were gone, and then she realized that she was waking up and she could move and the pain was just in the dagger now and not her whole body and she was screaming and she was crying and the king was really there and telling her to calm down but then everything was just too much for her and she collapsed, the world blissfully disappearing into black.
© Charlotte Cyprus