Submitted Date 04/10/2022

Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom far, far away, things were not as they seemed.

The continent was divided up into four kingdoms - or at least it had been before the royal family of Illesia succumbed to madness. They threw a great ball, killed all of the nobles in attendance, and finally took their own lives, thus ending the line of time magicians. As the southernmost kingdom and without any magic, the land had been absorbed by Kuluvia, the nearest kingdom to the north where magic of the mind ruled.

The queen of Kuluvia was a schemer. Born to a distant cousin of a distant cousin of a noble family from Abaran, she wielded a small amount of body magic. Though she couldn't shift like the great mages, she could alter her form enough to please the eye of a king and capture his mind with promises her body was fully able to keep. She kept a few other tricks up her sleeve and used them to push her greedy husband toward more money, more land, more power, more everything.

The prince of Kuluvia was… Well, he was, and there wasn't much more to him than that. With flowing blond hair, a chiseled chin, and hazel eyes, he was handsome enough to bed many a giggling chamber maid and smart enough to know which end of the sword to hold. His younger half-sister, the child of the king and an unknown woman - unknown to the world at large though the rumors were numerous - had more wisdom in her pinky finger than he had in the whole of his body. Everyone in the kingdom knew the queen hated this bastard child. However, the girl, actually a young woman, was sickly and no threat to her brother's eventual rule and was therefore tolerated at court.

The prince fancied himself an epic adventurer, though the dragon he had slain, with the help of a dozen soldiers, was nothing more than an overgrown lizard. In each retelling of the tale, the dragon grew tenfold until it was large enough that its wings - which in truth it did not have - could shade the whole of the castle from the midday sun. Of late, his parents had set him up with a gaggle of cousins of royal blood, each more inbred than the next. Though he preferred his dabblings with common women, the frivolities of youth could only last so long. Unwilling to settle without one last huzzah, he made a deal with his parents. He would go on a final quest to find the long lost Princess Chione of Frivelkia. If he did not return with her within a year, he would marry whichever snaggle-toothed, unibrowed noble his parents picked out. Afterall, his father had already proven that monogamy was a matter for those of lower station.

Princess Chione was the grand-aunt of the current queen of Frivelkia with whom the kingdom of Kuluvia was currently engaged in a land dispute. The eldest child, she'd been born without magic, despite her bloodline, and therefore had been passed over to rule. Outraged at this injustice, she'd led an unsuccessful revolt against her younger sister and had been punished, frozen in time - thanks to a mage from Illesia - never again to walk the four kingdoms. The prince's plan was simple, but then again, so was he; he would find the princess, awaken her with a kiss, marry her, and have a claim to the throne of Frivelkia. Neither of his parents thought much of this scheme, but as it would get him to settle down in the end, they humored him. With his bevy of guardsmen, he set off on a journey, intent on proving his parents wrong.

And prove them wrong he did.

Princess Chione was a rare beauty, reflecting the glory of the current queen of Frivelkia. With raven hair, alabaster skin, and eyes the vibrant shade of a field of bluebells, the prince was enchanted even before she woke up and smiled at him. He helped her from the glass coffin in which she'd been entombed, presented himself, and proposed immediately. She agreed just as quickly.

Though the king and queen were well and truly shocked when the prince rode in with his fiancée, she was welcomed eagerly by her soon to be family. While the king leered unabashedly at the princess, the queen sat fretting at her heart pendant, her mind on things less carnal. With Chione under the queen's wing, they would have a claim to the kingdom of Frivelkia. Though a war between their kingdoms would be needlessly bloody, there were plans in place that could subvert the need for such direct methods. The princess' arrival was more than timely. It was serendipity.

"I've had the servants prepare your suite," Prince Thurnrug said as he led his betrothed through the vast halls of the castle, their guards lagging behind. "If there's anything you need, anything at all, my cherry blossom, all you need do is ask."

"You're too kind to me," she said.

"Impossible." They stopped outside a chamber, and he threw open the door. The room had been aired out, and the linens were fresh. A fire burned in the hearth, throwing off heat and casting dancing shadows about the room. On one wall, a tapestry displaying the four original kingdoms - a decoration intended to provide familiar things to the out of time princess - had been hung. "These are your quarters, my turtle dove."

"Oh, I won't be staying with you?" She ran dainty fingers across his silk covered chest, and a sly smile twisted her bright red lips. "And here I was hoping we could get to know each other better."

At the chuckles of the guards, the prince shot a glare that had them all snapping to attention.

"Would that we could, my little honey bee, but etiquette demands separate rooms until the wedding next month. I wish it could be sooner, but my mother insists we have a ceremony just as grand as our lives together will be. Try not to yearn for me too much, my lemon drop." He brought her hand to his lips, pressing a kiss into her palm and closing her fingers on it. "I promise you the wait will be worth it."

With a reminder to the lady to be ready for dinner at six bells, the prince and the guards left the princess to clean up and rest. Though she had slept for dozens of years, the journey back from her crypt had been one too strenuous for such a fine lady. She bolted the door behind them and easily hefted the wooden crossbar into place, guaranteeing that she wouldn't be disturbed.

The room itself was filled with finery. Candles in silver sticks illuminated dark corners of the room, and the pitcher and bowl for her washing were made of painstakingly crafted porcelain. The map on the wall, an artifact several hundreds of years old and protected from the ravages of time by magic, was of greater interest to the lady. In this illustration, Kuluvika and Illesan were still distinct lands with clearly drawn borders. In the northeast and northwest, respectively, were Abaran and Frivelkia.

Abaran was a land as tough as its people. Locked within a horseshoe of mountain ranges, trade in and out of the kingdom was limited to the port city to the north and treacherous mountain passes to the south and west. Their magic was that of the body, allowing those with enough noble blood to shift their forms into something better suited to scale the craggy surfaces. The natural defenses provided them with much safety, though they relied on neighbors for many staple goods.

In contrast, the kingdom of Frivelkia was a lush land, full of green pastures and blue skies. Their noble families practiced spirit magic that uplifted the people, inspiring them to excel at their goals be it harvesting a field, weaving fabric, or composing an epic poem. The Sodren River cut through the land, sectioning off the bottom third of the kingdom before it strayed into smaller and more easily traversed streams, creeks, and brooks that fed the countryside.

Eleven generations had come and gone since the borders of the four kingdoms had been drawn and accepted by all, but now the land south of the Sodren was in dispute. Though it had been part of the kingdom of Frivelkia for generations, prior to that, Kuluvia had laid claim to it. So far, there had been no bloodshed over the land. Emissaries from Kuluvia had been welcomed into the court of Frivelkia to negotiate terms, but that had seen little to no progress. War seemed the most likely outcome.

Instead of resting or cleaning up, the princess withdrew a mirror from her pocket. She took the knife from her belt, stuck her thumb, and held the bleeding finger out over the reflective surface. Three drops of crimson fell from her digit while she chanted.

"Mirror, mirror in my hand, connect me to another land."

The surface of the mirror became cloudy and absorbed the blood. When the image cleared, instead of the reflection of Chione, the image of Queen Valoria of Frivelkia appeared. Her hair was as black and skin as pale as those of the woman speaking to her. The resemblance was eerie but quite literally skin deep.

"What have you to report?" the queen asked. "Were you successful?"

"I was," Chione replied. "I'm inside the castle and have been presented to the king and queen as your grand aunt. The queen is as cagey as you said. She immediately saw the potential of marrying her son to a Frivelkian noble. Diplomacy was never truly on the table, was it?"

"It was not," the queen agreed. "There are spies all around me. The only one I can trust is you, Alexi. Fulfill your contract. Kill the royal family of Kuluvia."

"And then I will be released from my contract?"

"You have my word." The queen smiled, and red lips parted to reveal pearly teeth. "Rid me of these serpents, and any life you want will be yours."

"It will be done, your majesty."

At the queen's dismissal, the magic mirror returned to its reflective state. Blue eyes, turned down at the corners, stared back at Alexi before shifting to a rich hickory. Her skin rippled and darkened until it was a shade or two lighter than umber. Though her hair remained just as black and lustrous, the pin-straight locks curled, bouncing with each movement. When the transformation ended, she was a half foot taller, and the muscles in her arms stood out like steel cables. Gone was the petite princess, and in her stead was a woman from Abaran, made not for sipping tea but scaling the highest mountains.

Abaran was known for three things: iron ore, salt mines, and assassins. The woman posing as Princess Chione was neither a pillar of salt nor an iron construct. Nothing was as it seemed.


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  • Colin Sephton 4 weeks ago

    I like the flow of this story. It’s easy to read.