“How long has it been since Sofiene had fallen?” Pocholo, the one of the councilmen of Xychosia, looked out the window. “Sofiene is beyond saving now...”
Councilman Pocholo stood in his study. Every councilman or councilwoman of Xychosia had one. His study had his own personal touch of mountains of books stacking to almost human size with his chair varnished dark brown with a dark rose coloured cushion for both his backrest and his seat. The large councilman however found himself pacing around and pondering, unable to enjoy his comfy chair. It did not help either that all he could see was lightning and thunder flashing over the darkened horizon.
“A good three years perhaps,” Councilman Jun sighed deeply before frowning. He walked towards the windows and stood right next to his fellow councilman. “Sofiene is not hopeless. Joy and Kara are currently tutoring the princess on what to do next.”
The image of the two women teaching the princess made the councilman chuckle. “Prime Minister Kara and Councilwoman Joy are one of the best when it comes to diplomacy and magic.”
Pocholo wrung his beefy fingers together as he looked out the window. He glanced at the lanky Councilman Jun who didn’t look the slightest bit worried while sweat poured down from every inch of his heavy build. How ironic that the very person that he saved from the bloody tragedy of Sofiene was the very thing that was giving him grey hair.
“That is true,” Jun folded his arms and looked at the dark silhouette of the former empire of Sofiene. “However, when do you feel it’s best to inform Samantha about what she should do?”
“We cannot force her to participate if she does not wish to.”
“If so, Sofiene will be doomed if she does not try.”
Councilman Pocholo frowned. “At the moment, she can barely lift a finger towards her brothers’ forces. She has no army - save for that dark knight who accompanied her.”
“Beatriz has proven more than worthy to protect her.” Creases appeared on Councilman Jun’s forehead. “Unfortunately, she is only capable of taking out ten strong. I am certain that her brothers’ have amassed more people.”
Councilman Pocholo, with a sigh, stepped away from the window. He remembered the first time that Samantha and Beatriz showed on his doorstep. Bloodied and traumatized, the two girls barely slept and ate when he brought them in to have some dinner. It was then that all the council members knew what had transpired: Sofiene had fallen.
If only he could help her reclaim the kingdom back! The councilman shook his head; even if he could, Sofiene had a different way of doing things. They did not believe in the divine right to rule like most monarchies. They were meritocratic in their own sense; the people needed to see them prove their mettle in tasks. Their achievements are what gave a lord or lady to ascend to the throne and become king or queen. This was the long standing tradition of King Solomon, a wise king to prevent royal dynasties which would soon cause the collapse of empires.
As if reading his mind, Councilman Jun nodded. “Then we will do it by tradition. It is the only way for the people of Sofiene to accept it.”
Pocholo chuckled. “At least we have that portion figured out.”
Jun smiled and nodded. “Now, let’s see if we can get her to actually try to join the Knights’ Festival.”
Samantha’s favourite place in the whole of Xychosia was the royal library. It was a large room containing books, journals, and all sorts of literature. The shelves made of Red Oak wood and towered all the way to the ceiling, leaving a small space for the fresco paintings to breathe. Books tackling all sorts of topics and subjects were lined up with their spines facing outward and their titles emblazoned in gold. At each shelf, there stood golden candelabras bearing three candles each. The flames glowed blue and lit up the pathways in between the shelves, dancing with the cool spring breeze.
"I guess being a princess does have its incentives," Samantha shrugged. She beamed at the sight of the books. "There are just so many books to choose from!"
Princess Samantha da Sofiene, for the last three years, had been living in Xychosia. Her long raven black hair, that had been constantly and meticulously combed by her chambermaids, cascaded past her shoulders and framed her fair-skinned oval face. She had dark brown eyes always known to be bright with curiosity and with a hint of innocence still shining in them. She may had been a little chunky
Samantha stopped in her tracks and inhaled the smell of books and the spring winds. The princess then turned towards the windows where she saw her reflection. She observed her purple gown, straightening her neckline and the long flared sleeves. It was one of her more favourite gowns. It was a gown that had been given to her by the Queen when she had first arrived in Xychosia.
Seeing that everything was right as rain, Samantha let her pink lips curve up into a satisfied smile. As she skipped along the pathways lit by the rainbow coloured afternoon lights, she continued browsing through the multitude of shelves. The library had always been her place not just for the books but also because she had a place to think. She loved the sound of silence; nothing could break her thought in the library. Looking around, she skipped along carpeted pathways of the library until she found the book of her choice. With her long, straight jet black hair bouncing behind her, Samantha then made her way to her favourite study desk.
The desk was stationed near the restricted section of the library. Made from the finest Cedarwood, the scent of the desk relaxed Samantha with its musky smell. The table had been carved with curls and waves with an eagle carved at the centre. The princess often stayed there not just because of its smell but also of wanting not to be disturbed. She then took her seat and straightened the purple hem of her gown before opening the crimson leather-jacketed book.
“The Knights’ Festival is a 400 year old tradition that was created to prevent the Odissea Madness from ever ruling the lands.” Samantha began reading. “It was also made to prevent corruption and political dynasties from ever forming. The first kingdom to begin that tradition was Sofiene...”
At the sight of the word “Sofiene”, she sighed deeply. It had been three years since she fled Sofiene. When the city had been ravaged, Samantha could do nothing but run. Three years ago, she and her siblings were meant to have their own Knights’ Festival. However, both her brothers changed their minds. They slew the king, exiled her, and took Sofiene for themselves by force. She remembered the flames that devoured the city. The soldiers, who aided in her escape, rallied together for one last stand before their bodies were mutilated and desecrated. There was no mercy; not even for the chambermaids and the children of the servants were spared. The memory of seeing their mutilated bodies nearly made her lunch climb up her throat. She forced it down and shook away the bloodied image, trying to forget the sight of their impaled heads and body parts. Her body shuddered as the image of the roaring fires flashed before her black eyes, rushing towards her with a draconic roar. She gasped and yelped, shoving herself away from the desk. Her breast rose up and down heavily as her black tresses fell freely down her oval shaped face. She huffed and heaved with sweat trickling down her temple, shutting her eyes tight.
However, the nightmares refused to leave her.
The blood splattering on the pavement.
The howls of despair and terror shrieking into the night air.
And then, a deafening white light...
Samantha gasped in shock as her hands suddenly shoved her away from the desk. Because the chair had no wheels, the seat didn’t roll but instead tipped over. She yelped as the chair fell straight down on its back rest, throwing her back with a loud crash.
“Ow!” Samantha yelped. She lay on the floor with a groan. “Ugh...”
She shook her head and lay on the ground. It was something that had been pestering her for awhile. What was that white light she had constantly seen? Every time she had that nightmare, it was always the same thing. Fires, screaming people, mutilated bodies, and then a white light. It was always the same pattern over and over. It was that same memory that she had constantly haunted her. But it wasn’t out of fear and terror of what happened. But it was more of fear of the unknown.
Sam, it’s nothing you need to worry yourself about. She had heard Beatriz reassure her.
But what if I forgot something really important? Something that could possibly save Sofiene? She had always replied, letting her paranoia take over.
Meh, I don’t think so. If it’s that easily forgotten then, it’s probably nothing at all. Beatriz would shrug. There are just some things that are better off forgotten.
Beatriz had been her staunchest supporter. Ever since she arrived at Xychosia, Samantha was glad that she had never left her side. As her lady-in-waiting, most of her jobs had been related to household chores. But that day that Beatriz and she fled Sofiene was for the first time she had seen Beatriz in full form. A death scythe in hand and jet black armour that revealed her pale skin under the embers of war.
But even now, she wasn’t sure if Beatriz could help her with her memory.
Samantha sighed and looked up towards the ceiling of the domed portion of the roof. In each ceiling beneath the domed roof, a fresco had been painted by appointed artists. The particular fresco she lay beneath of was a picture of a princess being bowed to by ten knights in pristine white armour. Their helms bowed low with their swords offered to the princess. A blue barrier seemed to form around them as it protected them from the several evils of the world. One of them was a dragon roaring and breathing a stream of blue crackling electricity. Another was a pirate ship that had unleashed its barrage of cannonballs at the princess. Soldiers marched from another end of their painting while knights clad in black seemed to have been warded off. However, Samantha’s eyes focused on the pendant hanging on the princess’s neck and rested on the portrayed princess’ praying hands. The crest was in the shape of an eagle holding a blue stone – the symbol of Xychosia.
“The Blue Eagle,” she whispered. Her hand slowly moved down towards her own pendant. “The Purple Owl...”
Samantha’s fingers gingerly caressed the owl-shaped pendant. The princess sighed; she once took so much pride in the pendant. She took a look at the owl-shaped pendant, examining every stroke and carving on it. Made from Fine Silver, the pendant glimmered under the sunlight. The owl spread its wings as if swooping down for an attack. In its claws, a purple stone glowed. Despite it hiding in the shadows, the purple stone seemed to shine from within. The lights flickered and danced within its crystalline prison, enchanting Samantha with its special dance.
“Hey! I knew the floor was that comfortable but not that comfortable!” She heard someone chuckle from above.
Samantha glanced up only to see the mischievous ice blue eyes of her lady-in-waiting, Beatriz Odissea. The girl stood over her with her black seven-inch high-heeled gladiator heels, making her taller than her usual. Her permed dark blonde tresses fell over like a curtain at the sides of her face. Even with the faint lighting in the library, the lady-in-waiting’s moon-shaped pale face and blood red lips illuminated the distance between them.
“Then again,” Beatriz grinned. “I do like the view I’m getting from up here.”
Samantha was puzzled at first until she saw Beatriz’s icy blue orbs focusing on her breasts. Her face then became as red as Beatriz’s lipstick. “Ah!”
The princess quickly clambered to her feet before holding her breasts close, whispering sharply. “Bea...!”
Beatriz smirked and leaned against the desk, folding her dark steel gauntlets over her chest. “What? It’s not my fault you have such big boobs.”
“Still! Will you not?”
“Relax, princess. I won’t rape you or anything. If I wanted to, I’d bring chains and whips.”
Samantha could do nothing but gawk. “You’re kidding...”
“Have I ever about my preferences?”
“Don’t you have a stop word or anything?”
“Most people do but they’re pussies. Three rounds in and they scream yield.”
Samantha sighed and shook her head with a helpless smile. Despite the lady-in-waiting’s lack of height, she had shown time and time again that she was not to be estimated. Samantha remembered the times her fury knew no bounds and how her grudge-bearing could last her years. She remembered the poor chef who had burned her favourite dark chocolate chip cookies. It was then people actually found Beatriz more troublesome than the princess herself, to the point of the lady-in-waiting biting and screaming at the chef until he fled the castle.
Although Beatriz was a bit of a handful herself (especially when someone dared to make her conform), Samantha nonetheless appreciated how she looked after her. When she fled Sofiene, Beatriz was the one who fought their way through. She had casted magic to keep Beatriz alive but nonetheless, only the former had the courage to leap into battle. She smiled at the small girl until her eyes widened in astonishment at Beatriz’s gown.
“Bea! Your gown!” She gasped. “What did you do to it?!”
Beatriz, blinking in bewilderment, then realized what Samantha was talking about and gestured to her dress. “Oh, this?”
The princess remembered the gown formerly being a burial gown. It was a simple black medieval gown with a simple round neckline and a silver brooch held at the waist by a light blue cord, matching the embroidery at the neckline and the hem of the skirt. The frills and ruffles at the end of each flared sleeve was a soft lavender colour. However, Beatriz then decided to have fun with a pair of scissors, needle, and thread. When the gown didn’t initially have a slit, she cleaved two slits on both sides before running it up all the way to her thighs. She shortened the gown to suit her height before slicing off the gown’s round neck and converted it into a v-neck instead. She also cut out the shoulders and the lavender ruffles, leaving it as flared sleeves.
“Yeah but I liked the colour so I made a few minor adjustments.” Beatriz beamed. “Like it?”
“Minor?! You cut two slits into your gown, cut out the shoulders and made holes, and made a v-neck out of it!”
“Let’s not forget that I made it backless,” Beatriz added cheerfully as she turned around to reveal her white back. “What do you think? Stylish isn’t it?”
Samantha groaned into her palms. “No wonder the scholars fled when they saw you.”
“Pshe! Fucking prudes, they’ve never gotten laid,” Beatriz scoffed, pushed herself off the desk, and then stomped her foot onto the desk. She then tightened the straps of her black gladiator-styled high heels. “Now, don’t we have a party to attend tonight?”
Samantha blinked and raised an eyebrow. “We… do?”
“Don’t tell me you forgot your own damn birthday.”
“Well… I… I didn’t! It’s just… well…”
Samantha inhaled sharply and shook her head. “Bea, that day we fled Sofiene – what happened?”
Beatriz shrugged nonchalantly. “Well, we ran and didn’t look back.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sam, we’ve been over this!”
“I know but there’s something there. It’s gnawing at me and I hate not knowing something.”
“It’s like what I said before: if you don’t remember it now, it’s probably not worth remembering.”
Samantha, slowly nodding, glanced at the red tome that she had been reading. A frown marred her features; how could she forget something that important? She exhaled sharply and closed her eyes, trying to make sense of it. But her memories just showed her the same thing – roaring fires, screaming people, smog in the skies, shattered bodies, and finally, the white light. The white light had consumed everything, leaving nothing in her view except her finding herself lying in a bed in Xychosia.
“Anyway,” Samantha nodded and beamed. “Tonight’s my birthday! I can’t have that hanging over my head.”
Beatriz nodded and sighed in relief. “Yeap, that’s right.” Finally, Samantha decided to let it go!
“I’ll just have to worry about it tomorrow!”
“… Oh Deus…”
Night fell on the city of Xychosia. But despite the darkness, it did not snuff out the streetlamps that lit up the streets. It also did not dampen the spirits of the people who left their houses in their best clothes. Citizens from all walks of life in Xychosia made their way towards the glowing citadel. Nobles from other cities soared on their airships as they looked down at the citadel beneath them. The courtyard seemed to glow with shimmering embers but softened still by the darkness of the night. Joyous sounds thundered in the air as the orchestra played their pieces.
From her room, Samantha watched the courtyard to glow to life from her room. A sigh bubbled from her throat as she sauntered away from her window and to her mirror. She straightened out her purple and gold gown. Clearly all decked out for the evening, Samantha wore a gown and jewellery that would suit the occasion. The royal purple gown shimmered with a golden neckline and bodice which was laced over by the long, bell-sleeved purple tunic gown. She picked up golden bracelets from her pearl jewellery case and then hung the royal pendant of Sofiene around her neck. A small smile appeared on her lips until her dark eyes trailed towards the silver pendant hanging around her neck. Her expression became more crestfallen until she heard a knock on the door.
“Door’s open,” Samantha called out.
As the door opened, a tan-skinned woman strode in with her gown trailing behind her. Despite her being medium in height, she carried the grace and poise befitting of a queen. Her smile was practiced but still kind and sincere for those who were skeptical. Her tube gown hugged her slim, curvaceous body in a light peach colour with a shimmering translucent pale pink cloth trailed behind her from her waist down. The moment Samantha turned around, she gasped.
“Queen Regina!” She quickly curtsied. “I’m so sorry! I thought you were Bea!”
The queen laughed softly. “It’s alright, there’s no need for you to be so formal.”
“But you’re the queen!”
“You’re a princess.”
“I was a princess.”
A frown marred the queen’s features as she gently placed her hands on Samantha’s shoulders. The princess looked up as she saw the stern features on the queen’s face.
“Just because you no longer have a throne does not mean you are not a princess,” the queen chided. “You were bred with nobility and with ethics. Being a noble is not in the title, Samantha. And neither, is it in the blood.”
Samantha shook her head. “But seriously, the only thing that marks me as a princess is this,” - she revealed the pendant in her hand, “is the royal pendant of Sofiene! Other than that, I have nothing.”
The queen could see the sorrow reflect in Samantha’s dark brown eyes. Although she had never been exiled, that did not mean she was incapable of offering her deepest sympathies. She watched Samantha tear away from her hands and slowly settle herself on her lavender coloured bed. The princess’s eyes flickered with sorrow and guilt as she wrung her hands together. Staying silent, the queen slowly moved to her side and sat next to her on the bed.
“Samantha, even if you are an exiled princess - there are still some ways you can help them,” the queen explained. “You are already helping Sofiene by staying alive.”
Samantha was quizzical. “Huh?”
“You give the people hope by staying alive. How you intend to use that hope however, is entirely up to you.”
“... I ... I just don’t know where to begin.”
“Oh I think you do. But, I believe it’s making the announcement and how to begin is the bigger question.”
Samantha hung her head in defeat. “Yeah, but it still doesn’t answer where I should start.”
Queen Regina pondered for a moment. “Perhaps the courtyard may have some potential.”
“Why of course! Where else will you get your connections?”
Realizations hit Samantha hard when she saw the airships outside. She rushed towards the window where she saw banners from different empires marching in. The banner of Karthakos was there with its yellow and green banner with a scorpion. The maroon banner with bloodied grey gears of Machinos Empire stood outside of the courtyard as well. She heard the loud honking of the ships’ foghorns as they docked at the Imperial Harbour of Xychosia.
“But won’t they tell Sofiene?” Samantha warily glanced back at Queen Regina.
“Should they try to tell, I will send my army after them.”
There was a bit of a giggle.“You’re not one to hold back, Your Highness.”
“I prefer giving nothing less than my 100 percent.”
Samantha beamed before sighing again. Should she get knights now, what was she going to do with Beatriz? She didn’t want to drag her through the chaos again. Her lady-in-waiting had already been implicated enough by being her protector. She shook her head; dismissing her would also be disgraceful. Her heart sank at the thought of dismissing her – Beatriz had served her all the way until now.
“Is something the matter?” Queen Regina asked. She saw Samantha’s crestfallen expression. “Are you nervous?”
Samantha shook her head. “It’s not nervous. It’s more about Bea.”
“She hasn’t been causing trouble last time I left her. Last time I saw her, she was indulging herself at the chocolate fondue fountain.”
“No, it’s not that. I... I feel like...”
“Like she has been put through so much trouble?”
Samantha gawked. How did she know that?
“I know the feeling,” Queen Regina gave Samantha an all-knowing smile and patted her shoulder. “If you truly feel that way, give her the choice.”
“Whether or not to serve as your lady-in-waiting.”
Samantha, nodding numbly, glanced out the window once more. Although the thought of facing her brothers terrified her, she knew that Queen Regina was right. If no one else was going to save Sofiene, it might as well be here. Her mind wandered back towards the fresco that she saw at the ceiling of the library when she fell over her chair. It was going to be one hell of a journey – pirates, soldiers, dragons, and all sorts of chaos waited for her beyond the castle walls. But if she was going to get her throne back, she was going to have to do it the way all her ancestors had done it: through the Knights’ Festival.
“I know what to do,” Samantha murmured.
Queen Regina nodded. “Oh?”
The princess smiled. “Yeah! But... there’s one problem...”
“And that would be?”
“... How am I going to announce this to people without having a target on back?”
Queen Regina pondered for a moment. Samantha did have a valid point; there were empires from all sides of the continent attending the gathering. Yet, she wasn’t sure if any of them had their own ulterior motives for attending or it was simply out of good will. The thought of not knowing was exasperating; Samantha would have to go in shooting blindly.
“Unfortunately,” Queen Regina shook her head. “This is how you learn how to play the game for the throne, Samantha. You either win or you die.”
Samantha groaned. “That’s not very comforting.”
“That is a harsh reality we nobles face in times of civil war. And this is where, your lesson as a queen-in-training begins.”