The sun, sliding low in the sky, beat full in their faces. The afternoon
breeze, which had sprung up in earnest, bent the long grasses and tossed the
hovering insects so that they danced in the air. Lena stared at the ground
while she walked, not caring for any conversation. The tranquility of the
entire place belied the struggle of emotions within her.
"Are you feeling okay?" came a hesitant query from behind her. She turned
and stared at the concerned face of Lyle, the dashing Layan prince that she
both hated and loved at the same time. Her lips quivered as her mind raced
with countless possible responses.
But she simply murmured the affirmative. She took another look at the wide
stretch of sea in the distance and turned around, walking further down the
sloping greensward. The two engaged in no more talk for a long while, both
swallowed up in their own ponderances of the recent events.
The sky began to darken as dusk drew near, and Lena realized with a frown
that they would not be able to reach the passageway connecting Landen and
Aquatica that night. They set up camp when the stars began to twinkle, and the
air grew chillier.
She hovered before the fire, warming her calloused hands and trying to
forget. But she knew the memories would linger in her mind like a headache for
weeks to come.
Lyle did not take much notice of her. He produced a small pouch from within
his traveling bag, and drew out some aromatic leaves, browned from the dryness.
Wordlessly, he took out two small cups, made from sturdy ceramic and etched
with designs all over. He poured some warm water into them, from the makeshift
kettle they had set up over the fire, and began to crush the leaves
systematically. Lena watched the fragments drifted downwards, propelled by the
silent wind, and fell into the cups.
The water became tinted with a pleasant mixture of gold and hazel as the
leaves permeated it. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Lyle smiled
and handed her a cup. "Try some," he said. "It's a Layan recipe."
Lena put the cup to her lips, and savored the fragrance, before allowing the
fluid to enter her mouth. The fluid trickled down her throat, creating a warm
feeling within her, and she closed her eyes, trying to get the most out of the
Her eyes fluttered open as she once again turned her gaze towards her
companion. "Lena," he began again. "I'm sorry about what happened, and I j-"
"No," she interrupted softly. "I've been a fool." She gave him a bittersweet
smile. "I've been living with a veil over my eyes." She saw his quizzical
expression, and continued. "I never expected him to say yes. Why would I?
I...I guess it was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. There's nothing you should
feel sorry about."
Lyle looked down, green locks of hair hiding his face in shadow. "Of
course," he breathed with a sigh of relief. He returned her smile, this one
more genuine. "I was afraid that you felt...angry."
"Angry?" She threw her head back and laughed. "No. Disappointed, yes. But
more so at myself than anyone. Let's not fret any more about this. We can't
turn the clock back and rewrite history." The Layan prince nodded. The entire
world seemed to be locked in stillness, as if everyone and everything were
eavesdropping on their conversation. Lena broke the silence. "I do like this
drink of yours. What is it called?"
Lyle seemed to be caught off guard by this question. After a moment, he
replied, "Calamint tea, it is. Its recipe has been common knowledge in my
household, and some legends say that it has certain restorative powers," A
pause. "but more for the mind and soul than the physical body."
"Indeed," Lena said, staring down into her own cup. She caught herself
wandering away and tried to make some more small talk. "Layans do seem to be
more spiritually complete than my people."
"What do you mean?"
"That you're more in touch with the ethereal world. Orakians have so few
parables, that sometimes, I feel as if we're all in violation of some higher
power." She chuckled inwardly, wondering what her companion might be thinking
of her. "But that's just me."
Lena studied his face intently. "Would you mind...telling me a story or
two?" She gave him a small smile. "I do love hearing a good tale."
Lyle furrowed his brow, still unable to understand what was going on in her
mind. "Sure," he complied. "What do you want to hear about, though? There are
thousands of stories in the Layan faith, most of it part of our oral history."
Lena thought for a moment, her eyes wandering around like she expected the
answer to appear to her in the air.
The prince took a while to think of a legend suitable for the occasion,
while Lena stared into her cup of calamint tea again, watching the leaves drift
leisurely around in their fresh brown sea. "There once was a man called
Pavrel," he began all of a sudden. "He was heir to a sizable kingdom whose name
has been lost in the mists of time." His voice grew stronger as the
recollection of the story distincted itself in his mind. "As he grew older, his
father's urges for him to choose a bride became ever more frequent."
"However, his eyes held no lady with their gaze for very long at all. The
prince could not seem to find the right bride for himself. Then one day,
Pavrel was visiting one of the towns his father ruled, when his eyes fell upon
an extraordinary young woman. He thought that she was the most beautiful thing
that he had laid eyes on, and he seemed to be oblivious to her requests for a
Lena waited for him to go on. "He was dressed in commoners' clothes, you
see, and the woman was a beggar. She had no home, nor family, and if she had
known that it was the prince before her, she would have never have asked him
for money. Pavrel stood there before her, dumbfounded and awestruck, and when
the woman finally noticed the royal insignia he wore on his chest -- a
requirement back in those days -- she ran off, scared."
"'Wait!' the prince had called out. But she was already out of sight. When
he returned to his palace, he told his father, the king, of his encounter, and
said that he wanted to seek out the woman and make her his wife. The king
would absolutely not allow it, though, because of the woman's low status in
society, and forbade him to do anything of the sort. The two got into an
argument, and the prince finally stomped off, too exasperated to do anything
"He went back to that town where he had first seen the woman, and combed
through the streets for her, searching every suspicious tavern and every narrow
alleyway. He never found her, though."
"Pavrel returned to his palace, forlorn, and tried to forget the woman's
image. He could not, however, and he began to imagine seeing her in the oddest
places -- in his dinnerplate, behind a tree, upon his mother's throne. His
hallucinations drove him mad, and he had to be locked away in his room, much to
the despair of many."
"They found him dead one early morning. He had hung himself with his
bedsheets. The entire kingdom grieved for a loss of a son, and a future ruler.
And up to this day, nobody has seen that woman, the beggar, the one that, in
essence, killed him."
The night air seemed to grow colder, and the darkness seemed to envelop
them. Lena shivered. "Is that the end of the story?" she asked in a wavery
voice. It was not what she had expected, but she was grateful for anything.
"No," replied Lyle. He sipped at his tea some more before going on. "The
prince hung himself on a midsummer's eve. It is said that on the anniversary
of his death, you can see one star in the sky that is brighter than the others.
For the prince was reincarnated as a star, and shines with fervor; even in the
afterlife, he continues to search for the woman. And every fifty years or so
-- at least that's what I was told -- another star shines just as bright as he,
and that star is the spirit of the woman he longed for, beckoning for him to
come." He said the last words with a smile.
Reaching out, Lyle took Lena's hand, in a firm, but comfortable grip, and
pointed at a bright light in the heavens above that matched the words that had
come out of his mouth moments earlier. The princess of Satera said nothing.
He then guided her hand towards the east a little more, and showed her an
equally bright light, whispering, "Never lose faith in the human soul. It
knows no limits."
* * * * *
The hidden sun peeled away only a single layer of night's darkness, leaving
the world suspended in a neutral gray light. Thy sky was tin-colored and full
of treacherous-looking clouds. Lena rose from her thin, uncomfortably rigid
pallet made from a pile of thick weeds and grasses, and rubbed her eyes.
Although she couldn't remember it, she knew that the dream she was having was
unpleasant, and was thankful that the sounds of wildlife pushed her out of
As she sat cross-legged, she felt the remnants of the dream lift like a
morning mist. A thin stream of smoke curled sinuously in the wind, originating
from the pile of ashes that was leftover from last night's fire. Lyle, who was
sleeping nearby, did not seem to be anywhere near wakefulness, a soft but
perpetual snore hanging in the air above him. Lena took the time she had to
herself to reminisce, something she had been doing disturbingly often recently.
She stared dumbly at nothing as her mind escaped into the past, and happier
"I'll help you escape. Follow me."
The words had come almost without her realizing it. She had crept down in
the dungeon, with half a mind to free Rhys from his imprisonment, because she
was a firm believer in true love. Others would've called her a hopeless
romantic. She never thought that she would actually go through with it,
though. However, puppy love had overridden her logical mind, and she could not
"Arm yourself well and go find Maia!"
As she watched him disappear down the passage, she had a sudden urge to
fling herself at him, to beg of him to take her along with him. But why would
he do that? After all, his betrothed was the lady Maia, and not her, a torn
"You've come a long way since we last met."
Stupid girl! she had chided herself. Is that all you have to
say? Her eyes filled with happiness and the world made sense for the
briefest of moments, as she saw Rhys standing before her. He was still alive,
after a series of harrowing events, and it made her feel...proud.
A voice shook her out of her reverie. "Let's break our fast before setting
off again, okay?" She nodded. Lyle looked worriedly at the distant gaze in her
eyes, but turned his attention to food. They ate quietly, occasionally trying
to spark up another conversation with a passing remark about the weather, but
Lena did not seem to be in the mood to talk.
About an hour later, the two of them were traveling again, heading
northwest. "Do you think we'll be able to get to the tunnel to Landen today?"
"I think so. It shouldn't be much farther. We might even make it to the
"That's good. I dearly miss home. Home, sweet home..." But what will
they think of me? she wondered silently. Rhys is not coming back, and
it's my fault. After all, I freed him. Am I a traitor? There was no
answer to her anguished thoughts. A buzzgull hopped up from her path, not
hungry for their carcasses, and into the convoluted branches of a rosewood tree
where he trilled disputatiously.
It sounded like a siren that was calling out her doom. Doom. The ominous
word rattled in her head like a pebble. How am I going to face them, and not
When the sun was high in the sky, and their stomachs were grumbling for food
once more, they sat down and had lunch -- a small, but rejuvenating meal
consisting of bread smeared with delectable Sateran butter, tangy wildberries,
and some more calamint tea.
After a few hours had passed, and many more drains of their water canteens,
they finally saw it. In the distance, a massive, craggy mountain face loomed,
and it only seemed to grow bigger as they gained more proximity. The darkness
at the foot of the mountain that led into the passageway seemed to be the mouth
of some horrible beast, and Lena felt as if she were staring at her own demise.
They reached the entrance as the sun was slowly drifting down towards the
horizon. Lyle stepped into the shade of the overhanging cliff, and fumbled for
the sapphire that was needed to unlock the tunnel. Lena stood apart, still not
daring to get any closer. She felt as if she was staring at the perpetuation
of her unhappiness, just a dark hole in front of her. Traitor. Did
that one word sum up all the tragedies and triumphs of her life?
"Though I sought Maia, I choose you."
Where had those words come from? They echoed in her mind, as if they were
spoken right next to her, although she was sure Lyle had said nothing. As she
searched for their origin, she realized that Rhys did say something like that
to her once. He had found some solace in her as a confidante, and they had
spent sleepless nights together in ramshackle inns just talking. "I always
thought that my wife would be my best friend as well as lover." he said,
rubbing the insomniac circles beneath his eyes. "Though I sought Maia, I choose
you as my best friend, Lena." He smiled, and nothing mattered anymore to her.
The tunnel opened up with a hiss of escaping air, and eerie lights that
shifted from one color to the next illuminated the Layan prince. He turned to
face Lena, sucking in a deep breath. "Coming?"
Lena felt an unexpected boost of inner strength from an unknown reservoir
within her. She swatted her fear away as mercilessly as she would a hovering
gnat, and stepped forward.
mystery lies beyond her eyes;|
Secrets buried deep.
What horror hides
behind the mask;
Only time shall keep.
The burning pits of frost
Gnaw at jaded soul,
While mem'ries full of mourn and
Begin to take their toll.