If ever there was a vivacity in Avelen that pulsed from the castle to the far corners of the kingdom, it may have been the day of Aira's birth, yet compared to the activity swirling around the castle in prelude to the coronation, there seemed now to be an energy that could awaken the dead. Every citizen readied themselves for the celebration, eager to relive the holiday jubilation freshly impressed upon their hearts from the Tahni festival. They were dressing themselves in their best clothes, preparing for the parade that was soon to commence.
Aira was in one her sprightly moods; she was in her chamber surrounded by handmaids and servants, who were adhering and obeying every beckoned call. The princess was adorning herself in a fashionable and elegant dress stitched by the most skillful fae hands. The garment sported a Decollete neckline, though according to her wishes, it was cut lower than usual and displayed more of her porcelain skin to the eyes, especially near the bust. There were exotic flowers sewn into the dress, and their fragrance brought instant joy to the spirit.
Two of her handmaids were braiding her hair as Aira applied some rouge to her already red lips. "I wonder if he'll like the dress," she said to herself, but one of the handmaids thought she was being addressed.
"Of course he will, your grace. There's not a man in the kingdom who wouldn't look upon you today and turn away without his heart touched. You look absolutely lovely, and you seem to glow."
"Ah yes - of course, of course," Aira replied with fresh confidence, and a sly smile began to show itself on her face, "he will like the dress. How could he not?"
The other handmaid chimed in, "Yet after the night's ceremonies and celebrations, he may find himself more interested in what will be waiting for him under the dress." The two servants giggled and Aira's sly smile grew to greater lengths. She had not cast a single spell, but she was relying on her most powerful magic this day; the enchanting allure of her beauty.
Meanwhile, in the only place where dull gloom could be found on such a marvelous day, Cole sat alone in his bedchamber; his hands were clasped together and placed between his knees, and he was fidgeting in his chair. He looked pale, and a dark cloud marked his brow. There was an evident lack of sleep in his half-closed, blood colored eyes.
He was racking his brain, trying to conjure some clever way to escape his inevitable fate. He desperately wished for nothing more than to flee from the castle and leave Avelen behind him. Of course he already thought about quitting the castle through one of his bedchamber's windows, then scaling down its walls hoping not to slip and fall to his demise. Yet every time he approached a window he could hear loud cheers and screams.
"Look, its the star-born king!"
He retreated from the window, and thus he now repositioned himself in his chair, hoping that some obscure reason to call off the wedding might present itself at the last minute. Just then a knock interrupted his mediation.
"Who is it?" Cole's nervous voice trembled.
"It's me," answered a familiar female voice.
"Are you alone?"
"Yes, but there are some servants out here who seem eager to come in as well."
"They can go away," Cole said with an agitated tone.
"What about me?"
"Is your brother with you?"
"No - now let me in already, will you?"
The young man turned the key that was stuck into the lock of the door, and the portal opened slightly. A slender frame slipped through the crack, and his eyes met those of the youthful and bright Penelope.
For the last month, ever since Ruby's abduction, Cole had gradually grown close to the fae girl. Though she was the sister of someone he deemed a rival, something about her reminded him of Ruby, and what little solace he found in those lonely times was because of Penelope. She had reason enough to spend her time with Cole as well; ever since the day he had risked his life to rescue her, and because of Ruby's sacrifice to exchange places with her, she has revered and respected them greatly, though her admiration for Cole blossomed more so.
The door was quickly closed again, and the key turned to lock it. Cole crossed the room and sat down in his chair again, resuming his thoughts without saying a word.
After a brief silence Penelope said, "You look as if you hardly slept at all last night."
"It's okay if-"
Cole interrupted her as he leapt from the chair, apparently struck by a bolt of mad genius. "There is another way!" He rushed over to the sabre Malachai entrusted to him, and he drew the weapon half way from its scabbard, exposing the blade. "If I take my own life, I won't have to get married." He seemed deranged and possessed as he spoke.
"That seems a little drastic, don't you agree?" Penelope rolled her eyes, and even placed one of her hands upon her hips to show a sign of disapproval; a trademark gesture that mirrored Ruby.
"You're right," Cole said in dismay as his senses returned. He sheathed the sabre once more, then laying it down he continued, "besides, if I did that Ruby would kill me."
"What are you going to do, my king?"
"I told you already that you don't have to call me that." He pondered for a few moments upon her question, but there was no answer he could give. Instead he inquired, "What would you do, Pen?"
"Me? I suppose if I were the star-born king I would be forced to marry Aira, and comply to whatever was demanded of me in order to rescue my friend who is captive of a terrible monster. After that I would-" She hesitated.
"After that you would..?"
Penelope turned away, attempting to conceal the nervous blush shown on her cheeks. She quickly dismissed the fancy that had nearly escaped her heart and continued, "I would end the curse of this land, and fulfill the prophecy. Isn't that what you want?"
"What I want," he muttered, "is that what I want? Sure that sounds nice, but to do that, what will it cost in the end?"
"You're dwelling too much on your marriage to the princess. Just remember that there are strong emotions that surpass ceremony, and even matrimony cannot break certain bonds." Her smile was reassuring, and her words caressed the king into a state of easiness.
"When you're right, you're right, Pen." Cole said as the dark cloud on his brow alleviated, but it was soon brought about again when the noise of cathedral bells pierced through his calmness. "What is that?"
"It sounds as if the parade is about to begin; today there will be a wedding."
Another knock upon the bedchamber door ended the conversation. This time Cole knew he could not longer delay his fate. He procrastinated opening the door, but eventually he did, and in the entryway was another familiar face.
"The horses are ready, my liege," Malachai said as soothingly as possible while he bowed, then offering him an arm he spoke with a soft smile, "shall we?"
Timidly Cole started for the door, but he stopped and turned back to Penelope, pleading with his eyes that she alone would object to the marriage and save him. She approached the king and straightened out part of his formal attire, and encouragingly she replied to his pleading expression, "Remember, you are doing this to help rescue Ruby." He looked unconvinced until she added, "You'll manage. Isn't that right?"
The words struck him more mightily than any bolt, and swallowing the last bits of his pride, he departed dutifully from the bedchamber with the woodsman. At the stables they mounted their royally decorated steeds, and before long they were proceeding toward the parade to conduct the first ceremony.