Daisy skidded to a halt at the rising platform. It would have been perfect to escape the man chasing her, but the magical converter wouldn’t accept her magicless touch.
She carried on down the alley, twisting and turning at random. She knew her pursuer wouldn’t be fooled for long, but maybe it would give her a few extra moments of freedom. A few extra moments before…
She put the inevitable from her mind, and felt the exhaustion of her muscles flood through her. How long had it been since she’d had so much space to run free? Okay, she was running between squat, single story, grey stone buildings, but at least it was different!
She slowed to a jog, and then when she was breathing too hard for that, a walk. She didn’t know where she was, and that’s exactly what she wanted. The man knew these streets better than she, so he’d still find her. But for now, she was alone.
The cross streets ahead were actually the back of several houses and formed a small square. She was about to walk across it when a clod of dirt smacked into the wall in front of her. She jumped and pressed herself against the stones.
Two more dirt balls thumped next to her. Then she felt a gust of wind blow back her long blonde hair and rustle her flowing green dress. She heard shouts from ahead. Kids playing! They sounded a bit younger than her, but they already had…
A bundle of rocks in the centre of the square rolled out of the rubble it had been hiding in, and slithered around. They had a Rorm! Younger than her, and they already had an earth Companion. It wasn’t fair!
A second Rock Worm chased after the first one, and Daisy could hear kids laughing. Then a Sparrot flew into view and pecked at one of the Rorms, casting tiny amounts of air magic with every flap of its wings.
Daisy crept forwards until she could peer round the corner and see the square fully. Three kids were playing. Two of them faced each other while the other one watched. Between the two that faced each other hung a large ball of dirt. Neither of them held it, but both of them stretched their hands out, willing it to stay there. Or more precisely, to not touch them. Daisy had seen others playing this game. Two casters would pit their strength against each other by trying to push a ball of their preferred element into the other caster. The two boys had looks of fierce concentration on their faces, afraid to have the dirt ball hit them.
Daisy stepped out slowly from behind the wall. No one noticed her. Should she join them? She looked around nervously. There was no reason for her to join them. But maybe… well, she wanted to, so she could? At least she could try?
She took a few tentative steps forwards, and the air caster that had been watching the other two noticed her and waved, then went back to cheering the other two on, swapping sides as the ball of dirt began to shake. Daisy jumped out of the way as the train of Companions ran in front of her, the rorms tearing up the cobblestones as they went, and the sparrot completely ruining her hair. Then, she was there. Tight there, with the others. Her heart beat faster. How long had it been since she’d spoken to a new person? She flicked a look behind her, remembering the man chasing her.
‘Hi,’ Daisy whispered. No one reacted. She cleared her throat and spoke louder. ‘Hello.’
The air caster looked up and ignored her too fancy dress. ‘Hey.’
Okay. Okay, that hadn’t gone too badly. She’d talked, he’d responded. All according to plan so far. She spent a moment studying the dirt ball between the competitors. She concluded it was definitely a ball of dirt that had been compressed by two earth casters pushing against it with their magic. Fascinating, truly…
‘Who’s winning?’ she asked. Not that she cared, but the idea of a conversation thrilled her.
‘Too hard to say!’ the air caster shouted, still jumping back and forth between the other two. ‘What do you think?’
Oh wow. A question! Stay calm Daisy, stay calm. He values your opinion, just don’t mess up. No pressure, just give the correct answer. Her palms started sweating. Damn it, Daisy, keep it together. Come on, this is why you escaped!
Daisy shrugged. ‘Too close to call.’
The air caster nodded his agreement and flashed her a smile.
Yes! See, it hadn’t been too long. She still knew how to talk to people.
The air caster looked back to Daisy. ‘Hey, want to have a go?’
Her heart sank. Of course she wanted to “have a go”. There was nothing she wanted more than to call up the well of her own magic, and to have a Companion by her side. But she couldn’t do that. When she felt for the magic inside her, she couldn’t sense anything. There was no well of power. There was a drought inside her. She was empty. Nothing. There was only void.
‘Oh, umm. No thanks,’ Daisy stammered. ‘I mean, uhh, I can’t.’
The air caster’s eyes went past her, and his mouth dropped open. Something must have caught the attention of the earth casters too as they both lost their concentration. One of them took a dirt ball to the gut and doubled over with a gasp of pain, the air rushing from his lungs.
She didn’t need to look. She knew. She could hear the crackle of sparks, and the heavy breathing of excitement.
The air caster said in a low voice, ‘Woah. Is that a Hondfir!?’
They’d all frozen – even the one gasping for breath on the floor was trying not to move – they didn’t want to risk making it attack.
She heard the footfalls of the man round the corner behind her. She refused to turn and look. Maybe if she didn’t see it, it wasn’t real.
‘Hello, children.’ His voice filled the square without him having to raise it. It was deep and commanding, and even though his words had been normal, friendly, they held something unsaid beneath them. Not a threat, but a promise. The three kids turned and ran, the one on the ground finding the strength to save his life. Daisy wanted to join them, but stood her ground.
Chunky leather boots clunked against stone behind her, and she heard the soft padding of paws. She could feel the heat flowing from the hondfir as it pushed itself against her side, its haunches almost level with her shoulders. It would have been uncomfortable if she hadn’t been so used to it. A large hand with the tightest grip she’d ever known placed itself gently on her shoulder.
‘I really wish you wouldn’t rush off like that. Malgnis gets hard to control when he thinks he’s playing a game with you.’
Daisy focused on the clapping of feet against cobbles disappearing into the distance. Her shoulders rose and fell in a sigh. They’d been too young anyway. But maybe that’s what she needed to fit in. Younger friends. Friends that didn’t have their magic yet. Hadn’t bonded with a Companion. No – any friends would do.
‘Did you find me, or did Malgnis?’ Daisy looked down to the hondfir that was rubbing itself against her, its tail wagging back and forth furiously, and scratched its head.
‘The honour goes to Malgnis, of course.’
‘Damn it, Kort!’ Daisy exploded, turning around and having to look straight up to meet his eyes. ‘I was making friends!’
‘I’m sorry, Princess. I didn’t mean to scare them.’
‘Look at you! You’re a giant with a hondfir, for goodness sake!’
‘I can’t help that.’
‘The longcoat makes you look even bigger!’
Kort shrugged. ‘It’s the official regalia for Lord Protector. I have to wear it. Plus it’s very fashionable since the war. I’ve been told I look very striking.’
Daisy shot Kort a withering glare. Surprisingly, the middle aged swordmaster didn’t seem too bothered by the not-as-withering-as-she-imagined gaze a sixteen year old girl could bring to bear. He kept one hand on the hilt of his sword, belted at his side, and one hand absently scratching Malgnis’ haunches, each stroke of his fur flicking up a tiny shower of fiery embers. She had to admit that actually yes, the navy longcoat really did suit the Lord Protector. But she was aiming for indignant rage and had to take it out on someone.
‘Just give me a day! One day by myself, here in the city! Let me meet people and make friends!’
Kort nodded. ‘I’ll ask the King and Queen if they will allow it.’ He got down on one knee, bringing him to just below her eye line. ‘I truly am sorry, Princess. I’ll recommend that you get let loose upon this city on your own. With Malgnis by your side, of course.’
Daisy looked at Malgnis who managed to have puppy eyes despite not being anywhere near a puppy. ‘Do I have to? I don’t need Malgnis. Everyone’s just as scared of him as they are of you. Come on, nothing’s going to happen to me.’
‘I just want you to be safe.’ Kort looked at Malgnis. ‘This one just wants you to play with him, but he also knows he has a job to do.’ Malgnis realised he was being talked about and licked Kort on the face happily. Kort looked back to Daisy, rubbing the red sweltering mark left behind on his cheek by the hondfir’s scorching mouth.
Daisy threw her hands up in defeat. ‘Fine! I guess. Whatever.’
Kort smiled and stood up. ‘Come on! We’ve wasted long enough. Before you decided to… what should I tell the King and Queen?’
‘Oh right.’ Daisy had forgotten all of this would have to be reported. Oops. ‘I guess, just tell them that we took a few wrong turns. I’m sure they won’t mind.’
‘Won’t mind that you’re late to your first official duty as a member of the Royal Family? The first not just in a long time, but ever?’
‘Yeah. That’s not the kind of thing they care about,’ Daisy tried, optimistically.
‘That is exactly the kind of thing they care about.’ Kort spun Daisy around and pushed her forward. ‘You managed to run us past the showgrounds, so let’s march back.’
‘March? In these shoes and this dress?’
‘They seemed perfect for sprinting, so no excuses, Princess.’
Daisy couldn’t argue with that. She headed towards where she thought the showgrounds were.
‘You know, Kort, I’ve seen the city every day from the Palace, but it’s really quite different when you’re down here. Behind some houses. I mean… I’m kind of lost. Also, this whole “running away from you and my responsibilities” doesn’t change our deal, right? I still get out of classes today because I’m having to do real work.’
‘Yes. Definitely no lessons today, so relax.’ Kort stepped around Daisy and led the way, Malgnis running in front of them, excited by all the new smells.
After a few turns, the sun managed to find its way past the single floor buildings that made up most of Valorge, and bathed Daisy in its warmth. She stopped and appreciated it. It’s not that she couldn’t get any sun in the palace, it was just that she loved the glow of sunshine. It helped fill that void inside her, even if only by a tiny amount for a fleeting moment.
The Lord Protector cleared his throat.
‘They named me after a flower. What do they expect?’
‘I didn’t say anything, Princess.’
She started walking slowly. Regally. She regretted the sprinting now, and the ridiculous shoes she had to wear for the occasion were not designed for easy movement. She took a moment to be thankful that her daily lessons included physical training – the only reason she’d managed to outrun Kort.
‘If it pleases the Princess, we could move more slowly? I hear that continental drift is very in this season among the young ones.’ Kort had a fine line in sarcasm.
‘Oh wow.’ Daisy laughed. ‘Did you really say “young ones”, Kort?’
‘A lapse in judgement, I’m sure. However, your next, and indeed only, appointment is waiting.’
Daisy sped up and headed towards the showgrounds at the centre of the city. At least, she thought that’s where she was headed. Kort would let her know if she was wrong.
‘I didn’t realise you were Lord Timekeeper now?’ Daisy poked.
‘No, no. I’m still here to protect you, Princess. But I believe that the last person to be as late to an opening ceremony as you’re going to be was beheaded, so a bit of haste is good for everyone.’
A flood of people appeared before Daisy, and she decided she must be on the main thoroughfare of the city. At this point of the road it was a market, which led to the inevitable fish, meat, and exotic fruits being shoved in her face with reckless abandon. Small Arcarats scampered around, helping their masters arrange their stalls and keep things tidy.
A shout came from a nearby couple arguing and pointing violently. Kort looked at Daisy with obvious concern before saying, ‘A moment, Princess.’
‘Can’t be late, Lord Protector! I’ll see you there.’
Kort cringed, presumably at the thought of leaving his charge alone in the middle of a crowded street, but the couple that had caught his attention were about to come to blows. He turned to interject, taking Malgnis with him. Very few people could stay angry when someone with the power to bond with an hondfir was bearing down on them.
Daisy carried on ahead. It must have been Market Lane, as every merchant was in a small stone stall with mountains of their wares spilling out, and the constant shout of haggling was only beaten by the roar of the crowd from the nearby showground.
Yes, the showground, that’s where she was headed. It must be nearby. She looked around, but could only see the tallest of buildings over the broad shouldered workers along Market Lane. There were so many people. More than ever turned up at the palace, and those visitors normally gave her more space.
Damnit. Why did I agree to open the games? Stupid, “civic duty”.
People were all around her now, and all she could see were their bright day-of-rest clothes, or the blue sky above them. There wasn’t even space enough to look down to see her feet.
She could still hear the shouting of the excited crowd close by. One of these people must know. She tapped the shoulder of one of the men. ‘Excuse me, sir. Do you know where the showgrounds are?’
The man didn’t react. She tried again, tapping harder. ‘Excuse me, s–’
He turned and shouted something incoherent, and Daisy couldn’t help but flinch away from the aggression, stumbling into a man behind her, who pushed her away from him. What were they doing?! She darted through the traders and gawkers away from the dangerous men, her lithe form allowing her to push between the bodies despite her frivolous dress.
The press of the crowd closed in on her. What were they thinking? Didn’t they know she was the princess! She looked around, ready to reprimand Kort for not doing his job, but he wasn’t there. She’d left him behind. She couldn’t see more than an arm’s length in any direction before the wall of people blocked her sight. The people were closing in, and she was without her Lord Protector. Without Kort.
She suddenly found it hard to breathe. Everyone was so close and loud, and there was no space to breathe! She wanted to shout out but her throat had clamped shut. She was sure that everyone was watching her. Watching her be lost, and weak, and scared, and unable to breathe.
Something wet and warm brushed against her hand. Malgnis’ nose. His warm fur brushed up against her as he put himself between her and as much of the crowd as he could manage. Then Kort’s unmistakable confident grip on her shoulder. ‘I’m here.’
Daisy squeezed her eyes shut. ‘I don’t know where I’m going. Please, help me.’
Daisy followed Kort and his confident strides. He’d been doing this for so long, he still managed to make it look as though she was the one leading him. Not like she had regressed into a scared little girl just because she wasn’t used to people.
Come on. Pull yourself together!
She managed to focus on where she was going. Kort had cleared a space around her somehow, and was taking her toward the stone rising platform. A new invention. Never before had they been able to move such a large and heavy object with magic alone, but her parents had already filled the palace with the things, so she was used to them.
Without thinking about it, Daisy slipped her hand over the handle. She felt the pull from the magical converter, and felt it tug at that void inside herself. She tried to find some magic and feed the converter, but nothing came. The platform stayed still.
Daisy felt Kort’s hand slide on top of hers, and saw the converter light up at his strength. She could feel the magic pass through her hand, but none of it went into her. As the converter drew his strength, the gears started working, and the platform began to rise.
They’d done this ever since she was a kid. One day, she wouldn’t need his power to make basic technology work. But for now, the fact she had to rely on him still grated at her.
‘Thank you,’ Daisy whispered.
‘Anything and always, my Princess,’ Kort said quietly in return.
As the platform crawled its way up the side of the showground walls, Daisy looked out over the city. The crowd she had just been trapped in now seemed small. The street wasn’t even that busy, and above it now the noises weren’t so loud. Given the distance, she could see that her panic had all been in her head. She thumped her hand against her leg, angry at herself, and to keep the tears from blurring her vision she set her eyes wide open and stared out at the city. The grey stone dominated everything, but since the end of the war, metal had become available to all, and now glints of warm gold and cold silver sparkled in the bright sunshine. Of course, her view from the palace was better, but this view was much closer to the city’s heart.
She felt the platform jerk beneath her feet as it reached the third floor and stopped at the top of the showground. Kort’s hand was instantly there to steady her.
‘I’m okay now,’ Daisy told him.
‘Sorry. Habit.’ He let go and took a step away from her, but still placed himself between her and the open edge of the platform. ‘Are you ready?’
Daisy took a deep breath and tried to ignore her heart attempting a break for freedom through her chest, opting for faked enthusiasm insead. ‘Wasn’t it you that was just telling me I was taking too long? Can’t keep my people waiting!’
She strode off the platform, under the stone archway and almost into the showground’s royal box. The problem was, she could now see the thousands of faces in the amphitheatre , and no longer had the stone walls to dampen the roar. She suddenly realised why Market Lane hadn’t really been busy. Everyone was here, waiting for her. She tried to gulp, but her throat was suddenly dry.
Malgnis nudged her from behind and she stumbled forwards into the royal box. As the crowd saw her arrive, the general clamour of excitement turned into a chorus of cheering, clapping, and whoops of excitement.
The royal box was a large and sprawling affair in one of the six corners of the arena. They hadn’t gone so far as to have wooden chairs like in the palace, but it was a good effort regardless. A glance behind her showed Kort and Malgnis flanking the door. Malgnis kept his dull glow of inner fire, illuminating the shadows around him, but Kort blended into the grey stone like he was a statue. There was also a man kneeling on the balcony. Following the correct etiquette – which her teachers had drummed into her during boring protocol lessons, and which still felt very odd to her – she walked to the front of the balcony and waved to the crowd. The crowd grew even louder at their acknowledgement, and Daisy turned to the waiting footman.
The man stood up and bowed. ‘Good morning, Princess Daisy.’ He bowed again. Really covering all of his bases, just in case. ‘I am the showground’s royal liaison. Anything you need, I’m here to help.’
Daisy nodded politely. He was a tall and broad shouldered man. He might be the royal liaison now, but like most of the citizens of Valorge he had the strong physique resulting from a life spent in a quarry.
‘Is the Princess ready to begin the opening ceremony?’
The royal liaison moved to to very edge of the balcony and touched a small tube set into the stone at his waist. It lit up as the magical converter absorbed his power, activating the voice amplifier that hung beneath the royal box.
He tapped the end of the tube to make sure it worked, and sure enough the percussion boomed out to fill every corner of the showgrounds. ‘Ladies and gentlemen. Quiet please for Princess Daisy.’
He stepped aside and bowed again. Daisy moved up to the very front of the royal box and placed her hands on the waist height stone wall. Before her, In the massive stadium built before the war, there must have easily been ten thousand spectators. All looking at her expectantly. Half of all Valorge. ((think about this number and what it infers upon the society, and the fact that half of them could take the day off)) The arena itself was divided into quarters. Sand, water, forest, and rock.
Daisy bent over, putting her mouth directly next to the speaking pipe. ‘Hello.’ She jumped back as the word boomed throughout the arena, and hands clamped ears everywhere she looked – herself included.
‘Apologies, Princess,’ the liaison said quickly. ‘This device has been calibrated so you can stand and speak normally.’
Sheepishly, Daisy stepped back from the edge and repeated herself. Much better.
She’d memorised the speech she was to give. She’d tried it out on Kort and Malgnis yesterday, and it had gone down well. Malgnis had panted vigorously, and Kort had been enthusiastically neutral.
‘I am here to open The Valoran Games. Our most powerful casters and Companions shall test their mettle, and a single champion shall be chosen.’ She allowed a hint of sadness to show in her voice. ‘It won’t escape anyone’s notice that these games are the first in a decade. The war took its toll on both our country and our people, but together we have persevered, and finally we can stop merely surviving, and start living.’ The crowd stayed silent. She’d rushed it! She wasn’t the great orator that her mother and father were. ‘Umm. And we welcome the envoys from our neighbouring nations, Praztar and Lysannlig, who we greet with respect, and hope that these games can be the first bonds forged in our path to peace.’ Still no reaction from the crowd, but she hadn’t expected much as the wounds caused by the war with the Priztor were still fresh in everyone’s minds. In fact it was probably just lucky that no one had started booing. ‘Let the games begin!’
A few scattered claps and shouts went up from the crowd, and Daisy stepped back. As the first competitors entered the sandy arena and the crowd’s roaring enthusiasm rose up, and she was forgotten. Her duties done, she was free to leave and was sure she could come up with a reasonable excuse. No need to mention that seeing the best of the best using their magic, and bond with their Companions, in such amazing ways would just make her depressed about her lack of either. Also that the crowd seemed to hate her. She felt like an imposter after being hidden away from the public throughout the war.
She backed away from the royal box, slumped through the archway, and back onto the rising platform. She couldn’t handle any more eyes on her. Out of habit more than hope, she placed her hand on the converter and felt the tug at her void. Kort’s hand slid over hers a second later, and she felt the magic pass through her, tingling her hand.
‘You did great, Princess.’
She turned to face him. ‘Were we at the same showgrounds? That went terribly! They acted like I was reading a shopping list.’
‘They sounded fine to me. They cheered when you paused, and went quiet when you spoke of the war. You may have stumbled over a few words, but it was hardly noticeable. A few more speeches and you’ll have them enraptured from the first word. Even Malgnis thought so, didn’t you?’
Malgnis barked, a few sparks escaping his mouth. ‘See. He agrees.’
Daisy gave Malgnis another of her withering glares, but again his panting tongue and puppy eyes soon had her scratching his head. ‘Huh. We’ll see. Anyway, I was so embarrassed. And I have a question.’
The platform reached the ground and they stepped off, beginning their walk back to the palace.
‘Why aren’t you competing?’
Kort was always so sure of himself and what he said, that Daisy couldn’t help but notice his hesitation. ‘Why would I enter?’
‘Well, I mean, you’re kind of… the best. Right?’
‘Ten years ago, maybe. But times have moved on.’
‘Oh come on. That’s just false modesty. Exactly what I’d expect from the best!’
‘A word of advice, Princess. The kind of attitude required to become the best doesn’t lend itself towards modesty. It’s a nice thought that anyone with power and skill would be a good person, but the war proved that isn’t the case for a lot of people.’
Daisy shrugged. ‘Then why are you the Lord Protector, huh?’
‘Oh, you know. A job’s a job, and this one here,’ he stuck his thumb at Malgnis, who barked, ‘only likes the best food.’
Daisy eyed Kort out of the corner of her eye, sure that he was holding something back.
They left Market Lane, almost empty now, with everyone crammed into the showground for the opening ceremony. A squat looking arch separated each district, and city guards stood ready at each. Seven of them, for purely symbolic reasons. Daisy dealt with guards on a daily basis, so they weren’t anything special to her, but there were young and old gawking from the edges of the street. The seven guards were all mounted on Valorge’s most common animal, the grox. A hairy and broad beast, typically aligned to earth magic, it was used in the forges, the mines, and for the army cavalry. It wasn’t fast, but once it got to where it was going, a single charge had been known to wipe out an enemy encampment. These grox had the full Valorge regalia, deep browns to honour the miners, and fiery reds for the forges that kept our city safe. It matched the functional, dulled brestplates of the guards riding them.
As the leader of the guards saw Kort, he barked an order and the seven of them halted their civic duties and saluted, open hand over breast, until the Lord Protector had passed. Daisy wasn’t sure they had even seen her.
Fountain Square, the heart of the city, was vastly different to the functional and bustling Market Street. This was a place of rest and beauty, filled with citizens relaxing on their only day off. The fountains ran in circles all around the square, creating a maze of stone walls, from the smallest at ankle height, all the way up to the ones that even Kort couldn’t see over. The whole square was ringed by a wall of water, maintained by water casters. It was supposed to open and close as someone passed through. With all the skilled casters no longer at war, they needed jobs, and Daisy’s parents had vowed to allow everyone to work. This meant a lot of rather extravagant public facilities, just like this water door. As Daisy approached she looked around to see the water casters frantically trying to open and close their creation. None of them were looking at her. She got closer, close enough to reach out and touch the water, and still it didn’t open. She caught the reflection of her long blonde hair, and her flowing bright green formal dress. She didn’t like it, but her choice of formal attire was rather limited. It was her own fault – she didn’t like being fussed over and the tailors were the epitome of fuss, so she rarely got them made.
In the centre of the city, with the showgrounds behind them, Daisy knew that the great war forges were to her left, and the mines to her right. They were both amazing, filled with networks of artisans, casters, and Companions, the quality and quantity from the forges only possible because of the hard work and dedication from the miners. Production facilities that any nation would be proud of, and were one of the deciding factors that allowed the Valorans to beat the Priztor. But the jewel of the city lay straight ahead.
The royal palace didn’t have the same lustrous crystal structure as the buildings of Kvannlig or Lysannlig in general, but it was a feat of caster-engineering that hadn’t been beaten the world over. As far as Daisy knew – not that she’d ever travelled, but her tutors did have a tendency to go on, at length, about all these sorts of things.
The palace sprawled large enough to be a town in its own right – quite literally, as the ground floor was a large marquee open to merchants – and the spires rose high enough to dominate the entire Eastern quarter. The central spire even stretched tall enough to see over the surrounding cliffs that encased Valorge in case an enemy army ever tried that treacherous route. It was an elegant mix of sturdy rock, much like the rest of Valorge, and metals of all colours. It looked as if one of the Legendary ones themselves slammed the ground with their fist, leaving the palace connected to the surrounding cliffs at the base. But the marvel of it all was that magic was fused within every inch of the walls. A small army of earth casters were employed to make the palace function – whether it be operating moving platforms like at the showgrounds, or the great shifting walls and doors. The palace was designed to open and close at the walker’s whim. An inescapable maze of ever shrinking tunnels to an invading army, but a straight path to anywhere they wanted to go to the royal family.
The main road that led to the palace was lined by the lavish houses of the city’s nobles. Unlike the common houses, they were two stories high, with balconies covered in blooming flowers. Typically for the nobles they showed off their magical affiliation. Water casters had blue flowers and blue tinted metal gilt on the corners of their houses. Earth casters had brown embellishments, fire had red, and air had white. Arcane casters drew the short straw, as importing crystals from Lysannlig was prohibitively expensive, and no flowers had the translucent shimmer of arcane magic, so their houses were marked with a polished steel front door – not nearly gaudy enough for most nobles’ tastes, but a luminescent silver was as accurate as anything else in nature came to the shimmer of arcane. Very few houses showed the radiant yellows that marked them as a light caster, and fewer still had the dark purple of a dark caster. Or they just didn’t want to show their affiliation. Praztar had a strong dark caster streak, and since the war, Daisy had noticed less and less dark magic being openly used in the city. Too many had lost loved ones to the grasping shadows in the dark.
Along the road, Daisy was forced to stop several times by the nobles, one or two even bursting out of their front doors at the sight of her.
‘I don’t get it though,’ Daisy said to Kort when the latest old lady had moved on after some excessive bowing. ‘I have no power. Why do they want me to know who they are?’
Daisy could see Kort’s face twist into a smile, but he obviously worked hard not to laugh. ‘You’ve been a treasure, hidden away from the public for the past four years. The last time most people saw you, you were a tiny little thing. A lot’s changed since then.’
‘Cut to the chase. What’s changed exactly?’
Kort made a vague motion with his hand. ‘During the war, national pride was at an all time high, and you, as the Princess, kept hidden and growing up safe in the palace, were a figurehead of the nation. In a sense, you are their prize for years of struggling and hardship.’
Daisy thought about it as they passed a house of bright red flowers that Malgnis had run over to sniff. ‘So… I’m an idea?’
‘Yes. To them, you are a concept. A very important concept. A concept that kept the nation together during war.’ Kort snapped his fingers and a tiny spark appeared, calling Malgnis back to his side. ‘When a mother lost a son, they’d mourn their loss, but know that it was the right thing to do. The right thing for the nation, the royal family, and the Princess.’
Daisy stopped, and Malgnis bumped into her making her take another step. She looked at the ground as she said, ‘I’m just… I’m sixteen. I was locked away for four years. For my own protection. I’m not someone to die for, Kort.’
Kort put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. ‘I’m sorry. It’s a complicated issue and I simplified it too much.’ His hand pushed her forwards gently but firmly, and she started walking again. ‘I’m no scholar. And I was locked up with you for all those years, so maybe I have things wrong.’
‘You’re many things, but wrong is rarely one of them.’
‘There’s a first time for everything, Princess.’
TO READ MORE, click here for the pdf for Chapters 1-3. Seven Winds