He had tried to kill her with fire, placing the crown on his own head instead. He had tried to break them with cruelty, afraid of their power. However, the princess he tried to erase from history is still very much alive and the fire he had used to destroy her now runs in her veins.
As the sun set behind the Sev Voski mountain range dark clouds gathered over the capital city of Megasvalta, heavy with the promise of an oncoming storm. People rushed down the cobbled streets as they tried to beat the rain home but as the first white fluffy snowflakes fell their steps slowed and their eyes turned to the sky. Children ran out of their houses, faces shining with excitement, as the first snow in three years began to fall heavier and more quickly.
“Papa it’s snowing!” Sarai called as her father came into her room, a smiling appearing on his face from her happy outburst. King Ekram watched as his daughter bounced up and down on the window seat as she looked between the snow and him.
“I know darling, isn’t it exciting?” he replied as he walked over to sit by her.
“Can Eya and I go out and play?” she asked with a hopeful look. Ekram chuckled and gently pat her on the head.
“But it’s getting dark outside sweetie and Miriam already got you into your pajamas. She would be very upset if you got them all wet and dirty now.”
“The snow will still be there tomorrow, you can play outside then. I have something very special to give you right now anyway,” he explained, motioning her over,
“Oh what is it?” Sarai wondered as she crawled into her father’s lap. Ekram reached into the sleeve of his robe and pulled out a small rectangular wrapped object and handed it to her.
“Gently,” he told her as she began to remove the black and gold paper that surrounded the object. Little by little bits of blue appeared until she was holding a solid blue gem in her hand.
“What is it papa?” she asked as she looked at the gem in her palm. “Can I play with it?”
“No darling, this present isn’t for playing with. This is an everstone, a thing of great power. This one is yours, no one will be able to control it but you. It will protect you when you need it, it will be your most valuable weapon if you will it, and someday it might be the only hope you have left. I need you to keep it a secret though Sarai, can you do that? I know you love Eyal and tell him everything but this is something you can’t tell him about.”
“Eyal knows how it feels to wield powerful magic and an everstone is one of the most powerful objects in existence. You are just a little girl still and he will try and protect you from carrying such a heavy burden but it must stay with you. Each everstone only has one master but there are many who may try to take it; it is safest with you always darling, do you understand?” Ekram told her.
“Yes papa,” she replied as she wrapped her hand around the gem and clutched it to her chest. Ekram put his arms around his daughter and hugged her to his chest, the feeling of her body heat calming his racing heartbeat.
“I have to get ready for a meeting so I’m going to say good night,” he said finally as he gently lifted the little girl out of his lap and sat her back down on the window seat. “Remember what I told you okay?”
“Good girl,” he murmured before leaning down to kiss her forehead. “Eyal will be in soon to say good night as well.” Sarai gave her father a tight hug before he left and then looked down at the blue gem that was still wrapped in her fist.
“Have to hide you,” she whispered to herself as she began to look around her room. She was trying to stuff the everstone inside one of her dolls when Eyal opened the door and she had to settle to jamming it into one of her pajama pockets instead.
“Good evening princess,” the tall boy told her with a big smile.
“Good evening Eya,” she replied, trying her best to mimic his accent. Eyal laughed and scooped the girl up into his arms and onto his shoulders as he brought her over to the window again.
“Did you see the snow?” he asked.
“Yes! Papa says we can’t play until tomorrow though,” she answered sadly. “I want to play now.”
“I know but your papa’s right. It’s cold and wet out there, it will be more fun tomorrow when the sun is up and we can clearly see all the snow to play in,” he told her.
“Okay,” Sarai sighed as she looked at the small flakes that were still falling.
“Can you see the city lights?” he continued.
“Yeah, they’re so bright tonight.”
“Shall we count them?”
“Okay! Oh there are so many.” Eyal chuckled and slowly began to count the lights that he could see until they were racing to find the next one before the other. In the end bother completely lost count and couldn’t stop laughing as he tucked Sarai in for the night.
“You messed up!” she accused with a giggle.
“No way, you messed up first,” he shot back. Sarai stuck her tongue out at him as he reached down to pat her on the head.
“Did not,” she grumbled while he smirked in return.
“Sure,” he drawled before looking at her pouting face once again. “I promise we’ll play in the snow tomorrow princess, okay?”
“Okay,” she murmured as the first sounds of sleep crept into her voice.
“Sweet dreams,” he said as he straightened up to his full height, watching her eyelids slowly drift shut. He stood there for a few more moments to see if she would wake again, only reaching for the gas lamp on her bed side table when he was satisfied.
Closing her bedroom door gently Eyal sighed to himself as he started back towards his own room, moonlight shining in through the large open windows on to the carpet. The gas lamps had already been turned down and a feeling of tranquility laid over the palace, the familial wing quiet and still. This was his favorite time of night, the limbo between the end of his duties and sleep where he just got to exist as himself, relaxing in his private quarters to his own lights out.
The carpet in the familial wing of the palace was deep red with a silver border and ran the entire length of the floors. The curtains that covered the large windows were made of fabric the same silver color as the carpet and when the light from the moon shone through them intricate patterns drawn by magic were illuminated.
Eyal had always loved looking at those curtains; they had been his father’s finest creation for the royal family before he had died. Every time he walked by them he was reminded of why he was there, the legacy that his father had entrusted to him upon his death and what he had to lose.
After closing his door he unbuttoned the jacket of his uniform and hung it on the hook on the back. Carefully he smoothed out the wrinkles and straightened the collar and sleeve cuffs, he believed a neat uniform showed your dedication to your work and Eyal was always immaculate.
He was about to take off his shirt when he got his first inkling that something wasn’t right. His great great grandfather had originally set the protective ring of magical runes around the palace and whenever they wore out the next Magus in his family renewed them. Eyal had done maintenance on them the week before and his connection with the runes was still strong; he felt whenever someone from the palace left the grounds or someone from the outside came in and something big had just come through.
He had his uniform jacket back on and his staff in his hand before he realized his body was moving and he was out the door within seconds of feeling the disturbance. He was halfway down the corridor when he heard the first boom, the force of the blast knocking him back into the wall, the back of his head cracking off the plaster.
For a few moments the entire world was black and everything around him was muffled, his head felt like someone had taken a hammer to it and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t focus on anything. He laid there for what felt like hours but what was probably only minutes drifting between the real world and unconsciousness when someone kicked him roughly in the ribs.
“You think the Magus is dead?” he heard a man ask.
“Damn creatures are tough, slit his throat just in case,” replied another. He felt one of the men shuffle past him, making sure to deliver another swift kick as he did, and the other crouched down near Eyal’s face. The man’s breath brushed against the side as he got closer and he could smell the cold night air on his clothes.
“And the first monster dies,” whispered the man. Eyal waited until he felt the breeze from the man reaching across his body to grab the man’s arm, breaking it at the elbow. The man had just begun to scream when Eyal opened his eyes and quickly grabbed the man’s neck, stopping his heart with the barest amount of power. The man crumpled to the floor as Eyal scrambled to his feet, his mind racing as he tried to process what was happening around him.
Through the open door she could smell the distant scent of something burning mixed with something he didn’t quite recognize. A smaller blast rocked the palace then and Eyal realized what the other scent was, gun powder. Screams resounded from somewhere deeper in the building and he was moving again, running as fast as he could despite the pain in his ribs towards Sarai’s bed room.
“Eyal, I need you to promise me something,” King Ekram had told him on the day of his allegiance ceremony.
“Anything my lord,” Eyal had replied.
“I need you to promise me that you will never take your eyes off of my daughter. If anything ever happens she will be your first priority, your only priority. If need be you will give your life protecting her, do you understand?” King Ekram had said the usual light in his eyes gone. The king had always been a kind man for as long as Eyal had known him but the look on his face that day had told Eyal all he needed to know about what would happen if he failed.
“I promise my lord.”
Eyal’s heart beat thrummed in his ears as he neared Sarai’s bed room, his harsh breath the only thing he could hear as he prayed that he wasn’t too late. Vaguely he was aware of the rest of the world, the smell of smoke and the different voices yelling, but he knew his orders. Before he could reach Sarai’s door another man with an axe bounded up the stairs and blocked his path. The man’s clothes were stained red with blood and more dripped down the blade and onto his fingers.
“Where do you think you’re going Magus?” he sneered, his lips curling in disgust like the word was something rotten.
“Doesn’t matter to you,” Eyal replied as he raised his staff and whispered a spell under his breath, his feet never losing momentum.
The man began to laugh but was cut short by a bout of violent coughing, blood running from his nose and between his fingers. The coughing got worse the closer Eyal came until eventually he nudged the man’s lifeless corpse out of the way with his staff, the loud thuds of dead weight rolling down the stairs echoing.
From where Eyal was he could see Sarai’s room hadn’t been touched, the door was still closed and undamaged. He went in carefully so as not to scare her but his heart leapt into his throat when he saw the empty bed and messy covers.
“Sarai?” he whispered. “Where are you?” he waited to see if there was any response, hoping that if she was still there she wasn’t too afraid to reach out to him. “Sarai?” he called again this time a little louder. It was then that he heard the soft sounds of crying coming from somewhere in the room. “Sarai?” Eyal moved closer to the bed and lay down on his stomach, gritting his teeth against the pain in his ribs, slowly lifting the blanket to see underneath.
Huddled in a corner Sarai had her face hidden in the carpet, her little body trembling with her sobs. Eyal let out a relieved sigh as all the fear left him. As long as Sarai was safe he could handle anything else that came their way.
“Sarai,” he whispered. “It’s me Eya.” Sarai lifted her red tear stained face and Eyal gave her the best reassuring smile he could. “Come here.”
“No!” She cried as she shook her head back and forth, her dark hair sticking to her cheeks.
“It’s okay princess, nothing can hurt you as long as Eya’s here remember?” he told her as he reached out a hand towards her.
“Too scared,” she mewled as more tears pooled in her eyes.
“I will make the scary men go away princess; you just have to come to me.”
“Promise?” she asked her voice heavy with fear.
“I promise darling,” Eyal replied. Sarai went quiet for a few moments like she was pondering her options before he heard a little sigh.
“Okay,” she murmured.
“Good girl, come to me,” Eyal told her as he beaconed her forward. Sarai began to wriggle out from underneath the bed when a hand suddenly grabbed the collar of Eyal’s jacket and roughly hauled him to his feet.
“Eya!” she screamed as the tears she had been keeping in began to run down her face.
Eyal was forcefully pushed into the nearby wall, the man who had grabbed him crushing his face against the stone with a hand on the back of his head. He hadn’t heard the man come in, hadn’t felt his presence because he was too distracted by Sarai and now he was possibly going to die for his negligence.
“I found her! The man yelled to someone out in the corridor and Eyal knew that it was now or never. The man’s announcement would bring more people and if they weren’t gone then they were dead. Quickly he kicked back his foot which connected with the man’s shin and was enough of a distraction for Eyal to break the hold on his head and arms. He could have used magic on the man but magic took more time than they had so instead he grabbed the man’s face while he was unbalanced and snapped his head to the side breaking his neck.
He didn’t wait for the man’s body to drop to the floor before he dove back towards the bed and lifted the cover. Sarai hadn’t moved from the spot he had left her in but she was crying again.
“Princess we have to go now,” Eyal told her as he gently grasped her under the armpits and pulled her out from under the bed. Sarai struggled at first, twisting and wriggling in his arms until she realized it was Eyal who held her. “It’s okay princess, it’s me,” he whispered to her as she finally looked at him. “We have to leave now.” He repositioned her so she was sitting comfortably in his arms, wrapped his jacket around her, and started for the closet on the other side of the room.
“Eya is hurt,” Sarai murmured as she looked at Eyal’s face from the inside of the folds of jacket fabric.
“I’m okay,” he replied as he opened the closet door and moved Sarai’s clothes out of the way.
“Eya’s face is hurt,” Sarai repeated reaching up to touch his cheek. The tears on her hands burned against the patches of raw skin that had been rubbed off by the wall that Eyal hadn’t even realized were there.
“I’m okay princess,” he told her again with a smile even though it hurt to stretch the skin. He placed his free hand on the wall and searched with his finger tips for the switch that he knew was there that would trigger the escape door. The door had been installed on the night of Sarai’s birth and only Eyal and the king knew where the activation switch was. His fingers brushed over the switch and the wall swung inward. Eyal stepped through the portal as the sounds of angry men and heavy footsteps started coming closer. The glow from a torch shone against the wood of Sarai’s bed room door as Eyal pressed the corresponding switch to close the wall.
The heat from the palace disappeared almost immediately when the escape door was locked, plunging the two of them into freezing darkness. Eyal felt Sarai press herself up against his body in an attempt to use his heat to keep herself warm as he knocked the base of his staff against the floor. A brilliant light burst into being at the top of the staff casting its rays all the way down the hallway. He wrapped his free arm around Sarai tightly as he looked down at her with a smile.
“Are you okay princess?” he asked.
“Cold,” she replied with a pout.
“Sorry princess, we’ll fix that soon,” Eyal told her.
“Eya where is mommy and daddy?” Sarai asked. Eyal knew the question was coming he had just hoped that it would be later rather than sooner. If they had gotten to their safe room they would be okay but with how close the first blast was and how quickly the men had gotten in he didn’t know if there had been enough time. He looked down at the little red cheeked face staring at him curiously and he couldn’t even imagine how he would be able to tell her. It would break of their hearts, his twice, once for the king and queen and once for the child in his arms.
“They’ll join us later,” he replied knowing that it was most likely a lie. He couldn’t think about that now though, he had to get Sarai out of the palace and to the safe house in the woods that surrounded Megasvalta. The hallway ended in a grate that could be unlocked and opened to the outside; through it Eyal could see that snow had started to fall during the night. “Sarai look, it’s snowing,” he told her as he opened the front of his jacket so she could see.
“Pretty,” she murmured in awe, her eyes wide as she watched the little white flakes fall from the sky. While she was distracted he pressed the top of the staff against the lock and popped it open so they could get outside.
It was colder in the open than it had been in the tunnel and Sarai made it quite clear that she was done looking at the snow when she practically tried to become one with Eyal’s rib cage. He sucked in a pained breath as she brushed up against the bruised but kept his mouth closed so he didn’t make a sound. Sarai already knew about the wounds on his face he didn’t want her to find out about his ribs too.
The walk to the safe house was long than it should have been because of the snow but they didn’t encounter any other rebels which Eyal was thankful for. By the time they made it to the cottage they were wet, cold and tired. Eyal opened the front door and took in the state of the space in front of him. The house hadn’t been used in a while so the furniture was a little shabby but still usable. The main room was on the small side with a couch, chair and table facing a fireplace that was built into the wall and a kitchen with a wood stove off to the side.
Eyal closed the front door behind them and bent down to let Sarai out of his arms. The little girl looked around the room for a few moments before she ran over to the couch and jumped on top of it, snuggling into the blanket that had been left behind. He stripped off his wet boots and jacket leaving both by the door before going up stairs to the bed rooms to get a thicker blanket. When he came back down he found Sarai staring at him from inside the rolled up blanket, the only thing visible was her little face and he couldn’t help thinking she looked a little bit like a roll cake.
With a chuckle he walked over to the couch and sat down next to her before gathering Sarai into his arms again and placing her in his lap. He wrapped the thicker blanket around both of their bodies as Sarai snuggled closed. Eyal embraced her and held her close to him; just having her there eased his racing heart that had been pounding painfully in his chest since he felt the disturbance from the runes. The princess was safe, he had done his job, but the palace was possibly lost and the king and queen dead.
“Eya is shaking,” Sarai murmured as she pressed one of her small hands against his chest. He gave her a soft smile before resting his cheek against the top of her head.
“I’m okay as long as you’re here princess,” he replied.
“Where is mommy and daddy?” Sarai asked again, the threat of tears tinting her voice now that immediate danger was behind them. Eyal eyes stayed fixed on the door because if he looked at her he was afraid of what would happen.
“They’ll be here later,” he told her as he stroked her hair.
“I want mommy and daddy,” Sarai whined.
“I’m sorry princess.” The front of Eyal’s shirt became wet as Sarai began to cry and Eyal had to take a deep breath to keep his own emotions in check. He started to rub gentle circles on her back like he had seen the queen do so many times before as he whispered, “it’ll be okay princess, it’ll be okay.”