(Eighteen years ago)
My cousin and his family and friends were an unexpected comfort, and a good distraction from the tragedy that plagued my mother, sister and I. I had only met them once before now, but I knew them well enough. Connor is a very caring person, and very strong willed. Kaylynne is a very intelligent fire mage, and one of Connor's closest friends. Joshua I've been told is a tricky thief with a relaxed attitude.
They stayed in town the rest of the day they arrived so they could offer their company and aid to us. Connor spent most of his time in town right next to either Jenneta or myself like a leech. Kaylynne wouldn't stop asking if there was anything she could do for us. Joshua, however, seemed to spend most of his time either snooping around the house or chatting with Jenneta. I believe it was merely because he found her attractive.
The next morning we gathered at the entrance of the main village road. My mother and Connor's parents exchanged goodbyes and condolences. Connor knelt down to my height.
"It's all going to be okay Camielia, I promise," he gave me a loving smile, followed by a gentle hug. "We'll see each other soon okay? I hope it won't be too long."
"Okay," I replied. My cousin sure knew how to make me feel better. He pulled back and rubbed my shoulder comfortingly for a second before he rose back to his feet.
"I'm sorry about your loss," Kaylynne said to Jenneta and I with an empathetic face. "I wish there was more that I could do to help the aching in your hearts." My sister and I remained silent, answering only with forced smiles. "Take care of yourselves. We'll be thinking about you."
Joshua was staring in to the sky. Connor smacked his arm. "Hey what was that for!?" Joshua questioned.
"Give it back," Connor demanded.
"Give what back?" Joshua asked innocently. Connor cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. "Oh fine." Joshua pulled a bronze shelf ornament out of his pocket and held it out for us to retrieve. "Sorry, you two."
Jenneta stepped forward and grabbed it with one hand, while smacking Joshua across the cheek with the other.
"Ow! Was that really necessary?" Joshua asked. "Are you two just gonna let her smack me like that? What about you Kay, you're a..."
"A what?" Kaylynne placed her hands on her hips.
"A, you know, girl, you can hit her back for me right?" Joshua suggested, only to receive a smack from Kaylynne next.
"OW!" Joshua blurted out. Connor and I giggled.
"Just leave won't you?" Jenneta crossed her arms and urged him along in an annoyed tone.
"Oh, aren't you lovely even when you're cruel," Joshua grinned.
Connor quickly grabbed his arm before he could get smacked again and dragged him toward their caravan. "Come on, let's go," Connor hustled him along. "Bye Camielia, bye Jenneta." Kaylynne smiled at us and turned to leave too.
"Bye everyone," my sister and I said in unison. The adults said their last goodbyes as well. We watched them until they rounded a curve in the road between the trees and disappeared from our sight. Our mother knelt down in front of us and gave a weak smile.
She swallowed heavily before she spoke, "we carry on. I need to go work the fields for a few hours. Camielia, you have to come with me now. You can play with some of the other kids there. Jenneta you best get to school, you hear?"
"Yes mother," Jenneta nodded.
"But I always stay home when you go work the fields," I whined.
"I know, but, Daddy is not," my mother began to stutter.
"Camielia," Jenneta interrupted. "If you go with mother I'll play that board game, Kingdom, with you tonight."
I gasped and replied, "really!?" Jenneta usually hated that board game.
"Mhmm," she nodded at me.
"Okay!" I squeaked. "Let's go mommy!"
Months passed, and I was almost three years old. My father's absence had started to sting a little less, but it was soon replaced with a new peril. My mother had been working extra hours in the fields to provide for my sister and I, but with the winter months beginning, it started to wear on her health.
She fell ill, very ill. Confined to her bed, she received inadequate medical attention from our inexperienced and unlearned doctors and healers. My sister and I prayed for her swift recovery, but she only kept getting worse. Luckily, the harvest just before the winter months was an adequate amount to last through the winter, and not much work was needed to be done outside of home until Spring.
Jenneta had acted so kind to me and our mother for the first two months after our father died. She talked with me regularly and took on extra chores so that neither I nor our mother would have to do them. She even played Kingdom on a weekly basis. However, as the months wore on, her determination softened, and her personality became more obscure than it was even before our father's death.
I prayed alone for the complete healing and happiness of our family. I would soon find out that those prayers were not meant to come true for a long time. My birthday finally came, and Jenneta and I were sitting in the living room staring at the fireplace, we heard our mother's faint plea for us to come to her side. We glanced at each other with knowing faces, as we rose and entered her room.
"My daughters..." our mother's voice was the weakest I've ever heard it before. "Camielia, Jenneta..." Tears formed like puddles on her bottom eyelids. "I'm not going to be here for much longer. I need you both.. to stay strong... okay? For me.. and for your father..." She coughed for seconds on end. I placed my little hands on the bedside and started to cry. Jenneta's expression remained composed as she took our mother's hand in her own.
"Jenneta.. you take care of Camielia... You're one of the only family she has left.. so you watch over her, and you.. grow to be.. successful and even more beautiful than you already... are.. I love you... so much."
"Camielia.... you listen to Jenneta now.. okay? You be.. a good girl...." she started to vigorously cough and wheeze, closing her eyes and looking away, too weak to continue. I buried my face in the bedside, wetting the sheets with my tears. Jenneta continued to hold her hand until she saw our mother exhale one last time. She finally let go. Only a minute passed after my mother's last breath, but it felt like hours of pain and anguish.
At last, Jenneta turned to me with a long and hard stare. My face was still hidden in the crumpled bedsheets. "Camielia," Jenneta spoke. "I want you to go to the Belmont's house tonight and stay there. I'm going to bury her." I heard her just fine, but was too paralyzed with grief to move. Instead, she picked me up and carried me. I sobbed and sniffled all over her shoulder. She knocked on the Belmont's door and transferred me in to Mr. Belmont's arms. He looked at Jenneta with a puzzled look.
"I'm going to take care of her," Jenneta referred to burying our mother. It was all she needed to say, as Mr. Belmont nodded with a depressive face. "She can stay here for just one night?"
"Of course," Mr. Belmont assured Jenneta. "Camielia can stay here anytime." Jenneta engaged with him no further. She turned and started right back toward our house. I hid in a makeshift guest room that the Belmont's prepared for me, refusing to come out. Night came and went. I didn't sleep. At dawn's first light on the overcast clouds, I rose to my feet and scurried out of their guest room and out of their house before they could speak to me.
A blistering winter chill assaulted my face when I left the house, matched with freezing gales that blew my short hair in to a frenzy. I looked up at the dark looming clouds and knew that snow would fall by the afternoon. My feet didn't slow down as I burst through the door of my house and in to my mother's room. She wasn't there, no doubt buried by Jenneta somewhere. Strangely enough as well, the house was even colder than the air outside.
I checked every room to find my sister, but she was nowhere to be seen. I tripped out of the front door of the house and looked all around the streets. She was gone. I frowned, confused, and decided to return home and wait. I dragged myself through the front door and sat down in the middle of the living room. An hour passed, then two, then five. Nothing happened at all. I finally looked outside to see a thick flurry of snow cascading through the town. A fog had thickened and I couldn't see the edge of the village. The ground was already covered with a thin layer of smooth white snow.
I couldn't take the cold anymore. I was already wearing long wool pants and a thin furry coat with a cotton shirt underneath. I tore through my splintery dresser and put on whatever I could. This was only a pair of shoes with a couple of holes in them, a pair of fingerless cotton gloves, and a bandana. My feet, hands and nose were already starting to feel numb regardless of what I was wearing.
I was truly lost. I did not know what to do, what to think, or where to go. My thinking became so skewed and irrational that I decided to leave, and just go down the road in hopes of finding everything that I had lost in the past year. My childish mind thought that I could find what would fill the missing holes in my life if I just simply left, and that's exactly what I did.
I swiped a slice of stale bread off of the kitchen table and wrapped one of my bed sheets around me like a cloak. It dragged across the ground behind me. I left my empty house and started down the road. No one was outside in the snow, and even if a anyone looked out of their window, the fog would conceal me enough so no one would spot me with ease.
I looked back once I reached the edge of the village one last time, then turned and continued on. I walked, and walked, letting the cold seep in to me more and more every minute. I walked for an hour, then started to approach the two hour mark. My entire body was numb, and my limbs were frostbitten. The light of day began to fade and I knew I was a goner.
What was I thinking? My bed sheet snagged on a twig sticking out of the snow and ripped the entire thing halfway down its length. It flapped in the wind and did nothing to keep me warm anymore, not that it did a good job in the first place. I tried to shift my grip on it, but with numb fingers I couldn't tell what kind of grip I had. It slipped out of my hands and was blown away high in to a tree. My arms receded to embrace myself as I dropped to my knees. My vision blurred. I wanted to cry but couldn't because of how cold I was.
I noticed an animal figure staring at me, poised between two trees. It was a wolf with gleaming emerald eyes in the twilight darkness. It snarled and snapped its teeth at me. I closed my eyes, ready to accept my death, when I heard a horse whinny just down the road at my back. A brilliant light shimmered and erupted from behind me, lighting the road and illuminating the tree trunks around me as if it were noon. The wolf scampered off for the moment.
I forced my torso to turn and find a single horse drawn closed carriage stop just behind me on my left. It had two flickering lanterns hanging on both sides near the top. A hooded and robed man sat on the driver's seat of the carriage holding a torch with one hand and the reigns with another. Two men in dull gray colored plate armor with shiny swords that shimmered in the mysterious light stood one on each side of the carriage.
The most entrancing character was the body of a short woman, likely very young, dressed in a dull gray robe that still showed her feminine figure. She had a hood over her head that covered her face almost halfway down the bridge of her nose. She was wielding a staff that was half the length of her height and was twice as thick as the hilt of a sword. On the end of the staff was a ring loop the size of a person's head, with a smaller gyrating ring magically bound on the inside of the larger one. The gyrating ring shone so bright it was nearly impossible to look directly at it without blinding myself. The intensity of the light waned as the woman stepped closer to me.
"Milady, remain on guard, even against a child," one of the armored men behind her reminded the woman. I shifted around and fell on my bottom, then desperately tried to shimmy away from her. I was frightened, but far too weak to run. The woman however, noticed my fear and stopped. She knelt down, laying both knees on the ground in the snow and sitting on her feet below her. She jabbed her staff in to the ground next to her as well and removed her hood.
"Milady," the same armored man tried to prevent her from doing such an action, though he made no effort aside from speaking.
The woman was beautiful. She had flawless skin. Her eyebrows were neat and her mouth was small with soft lips. Her nose was slightly petite and her eyes were warm with a maroon iris. After viewing her entire face, she did not even appear of adult age. Instead she looked like a girl in her late teens, eighteen or nineteen.
"What's your name?" her voice sounded melodic and sweet. Her eyes gazed in to mine with an fierce tenderness, but she smiled ever so softly. "My name is Eleanora."
I wanted to run away. I was frightened, and they were all strangers, but running would have only ensured my demise. "C-Camielia," I quivered out of numb lips.
"Camielia," Eleanora smiled much bigger and nodded at me. "What are you doing way out here?"
I remained silent for that question.
"I can take you some place warm," she continued on anyways. "Some place with good food and warm beds. A pretty young lady like you shouldn't be out here all alone." She outstretched her hand with an open palm. "Would you like that?"
"Milady, I must..." the armored man again spoke, but this time Eleanora held her hand up beside her with loose fingers and quieted the man.
I pondered the alternatives, and knew that any other option would be infinitely worse than what she was offering. I slowly crawled over to her and took her hand with mine. She gently took my other hand and lightly squeezed them, closing her eyes. I instantly felt a relaxing and relieving warmth flow from my fingertips through my entire body. The cold air around me suddenly felt so insignificant I forgot that I was even outside. I closed my eyes as well and exhaled contently at the rejuvenating sensation.
Once my body was thoroughly warmed up, Eleanora opened her eyes and grinned at me. I returned with a weak smile, but a smile none the less.
"Murray," she addressed the armored man behind her. "We're going to have an extra visitor in the castle when we return."
"Aye, milady, as you wish," the man, Murray, conceded. Just as Eleanora was about to take me in to the carriage with her, I heard the snarl of not one wolf, but several wolves behind me. I looked back to find hidden just behind the edge of the tree line beside the road, numerous pairs of gleaming emerald eyes. The wolf that fled only left to bring the whole pack. I gasped and stepped beside Eleanora, clutching her waist in fear.
"Milady, get inside! Those wolves do not intend to be docile. Let us handle this!" Murray stepped to the other side of Eleanora and readied his longsword. The armored man on the other side of the carriage swiftly stepped around and readied himself at my side too.
"No," Eleanora wrapped her arms around me and picked me up, handing me to Murray as she took his sword out of his hand and placed it in the seat of the carriage. "You two get inside, I'll handle this. There's no need to stain the snow red now is there?"
"You wish to stave off a pack of wolves alone?" Murray questioned as he clutched me in a surprisingly comforting fashion.
"Do you doubt my abilities, Murray?"
"Do as I say."
"Aye, as you say." Murray and the other armored man stepped inside the carriage, holding on to me. "Little one, I suggest you look away," Murray said to me.
I did not heed his advice. Instead I saw Eleanora pull her staff out of the ground and ready herself in a combative stance. Not two seconds after, the pack of wolves thrashed toward her.
The gyrating ring in her staff shone a dim colored sky blue as she twirled it above her head and swiped it across in front of her, blasting half of the pack back with a fierce gust of wind. The wolves that were struck crashed in the tree trunks and tumbled past the tree line. The ring in her staff switched color to a deep marine blue when the snow around her feet suddenly levitated to her waist level and melted. The water from the melted snow formed in to small boiling spheres that shot forward when Eleanora cast her staff out in front of her horizontally. Almost all of the rest of the wolf pack was struck and burned with scalding hot water.
Most of the pack stopped or clambered on to their paws and retreated. The remaining small handful of wolves were nearly on top of Eleanora. Her staff ring then switched color to a leafy green when she balled her free hand in to a fist and uppercut the air. Blunt spikes of rocky earth thrust out from below the snow just a few feet in front of her. The earth chunks hit the wolves with painful, but not lethal or even bone-shattering force. At last, the wolves were all discouraged and demoralized by the attempted attack. They whimpered and whined. A couple of them let loose a howling cry as they clambered in to fog between the trees.
Eleanora executed all of this in less than three seconds. If she took any longer, the wolves would have reached her. She turned around and exhaled a short sigh of relief. Her first defensive measure unintentionally blew out the lantern on her side of the carriage. The ring of her staff yet again switched color to a vibrant crimson when she stepped over and pinched the wick of the lantern, igniting it again with her touch alone. At last, the staff's ring waned to a dull gray color.
I sat stunned at the spectacle I just witnessed. My eyes were wide and my mouth agape. I knew magic existed in the world, and that some individuals had a connection to a specific element, like how my sister is attuned to the element of water. I never thought I would meet anyone who could control all four elements. Anyone who ever spoke of magic said that such individuals were extremely rare, and that only a paltry few even existed.
"We'll be on our way now, driver," Eleanora addressed the carriage driver before entering. She sat down across from Murray and myself, next to the other man.
"Might I express my approval for the way you handled that situation?" Murray spoke to Eleanora.
"Noted, Murray. Thank you," Eleanora smiled and gave a single nod.
"It is my pleasure. We'll assume our positions outside once more then, milady," Murray said as he and the other one exited the carriage to walk alongside it. I looked around the carriage nervously. Eleanora shifted over in her seat to make a space for me to sit down. I slid off of my seat, keeping my timid eyes staring at the floor. I hopped up next to her and kicked my feet back and forth anxiously.
"It's a long way to go before we reach our destination," Eleanora remarked. "But, don't fret. Our provisions are plentiful and the sights along the way are lovely."
"Err, where are we going?" I asked shyly.
Eleanora looked down at me with a cheery smile. "We're going to the Rose Kingdom. From there you can rest, and we can do what we can to help you get back home to your family."
I was suddenly reminded of the tragedies that I've suffered over the past twenty-four hours alone. Tears already started forming in my eyes again. "I don't have a family anymore..." my words were so soft and shaky that I'm surprised she was able to understand me.
"What do you mean?" Eleanora tilted her head with curiosity.
"My parents are..." I stammered. "My parents are dead, and my sister disappeared."
"I see. I'm so, so sorry to hear that," her words were sincere. "Without your family, what place do you call home then?" I didn't answer her question, because I didn't have a home anymore either. "I'm really sorry for your loss. Were you out in the cold all alone trying to escape your sorrow?"
I shrugged shamefully.
"Well you're going to get to stay in the castle of the Rose Kingdom from here on," Eleanora proclaimed.
"Stay in a castle?" I questioned. "How?"
Eleanora smirked and replied, "I don't see any real harm in keeping it a secret from you anymore. My full name is Eleanora Rose." My eyes instantly widened after hearing her last name. My parents had taught be about the five standing sovereign kingdoms and their lineages. Each kingdom was named after a flower and each member of the royal family bore the last name of that specific flower. The five kingdoms were the Rose Kingdom, Tulip Sovereignty, Delphinium Dominion, Iris Province, and the Daisy Commonwealth, and each was very unique in their own way.
"I'm the princess of the Rose Kingdom," she continued. "My parents are the king and queen, and I'm the only other member of the royal family aside from them."
"P-princess?" I stuttered in amazement and humility.
"Yes," Eleanora confirmed. "Which means, you will call me Rose from now on, okay?"
I nodded my head, still too astonished for more words. Rose giggled at my seemingly dumbfounded demeanor. I couldn't believe what I was hearing either. My life was going from alone and impoverished, to staying in a luxurious castle with a princess who just saved my life.
The rest of the journey was peaceful and mostly quiet. I figured Rose did not want to pry too much in to my personal life when I was so emotionally distressed already. She also, was right about the scenery. As we got closer to the capital city of the Rose Kingdom and crossed in to its borders, the landscape was truly marvelous. Lush green grass over rolling hills, small mountain ranges and creeks.
On the last day of our journey, I had apparently fallen asleep with my head on Rose's lap. I awoke to the thudding stop of the carriage. Rose was gently stroking her fingers through my hair. I liked that.
"Camielia, we're here," she said almost in a whisper. Murray opened the door to the carriage and Rose patted my shoulder as way of asking me to get up. I rose and let her exit the carriage first.
"Put your hood on milady," Murray requested of Rose.
"Yes, Murray, thank you," Rose covered her head once again with her hood and took two steps away from the carriage door. She turned back to look at me, though I could only see her nose barely protruding out of the hood. "Hold my hand, Camielia." She held out her hand behind her and I took it with my own. We were stopped at the capital city's main entrance gate.
"We'll be behind you all the way princess. Let us make haste to the castle as to avoid as much attention as possible," Murray said. Rose started in to the city and walked the streets furtively. We walked for several minutes before reaching the castle. Every time I looked behind us I spotted Murray and the other man, nonchalantly walking far behind us. We entered the castle and Rose let go of my hand, kneeling down to my level.
"I'm going to talk with my parents. You can make yourself at home for now, but just make sure you behave okay?" I nodded my head quickly. "Murray, why don't you show her around?"
"It will be done, milady," Murray bowed in submission.
Rose smiled at me and assured me, "I'll be with you soon, just relax, for journey was long. After I'm done speaking with my parents I'll help you get accustomed to the castle for the rest of the day." She headed off in to a separate wing of the castle and disappeared.
What a spectacle the Rose Kingdom castle interior was. I marveled at the decorations and cleanliness of it all. The designs on the tile floor were creative, and the ceilings rose high and daunting. I didn't know it at the time, but I would end up calling the Rose Kingdom my home, and Princess Rose, my mother.