I haven't thought much about death. At least not until Papa and Brycen went away to war. Sure, my mother died from the Sickness shortly after Jenisyn was born, but that was eight years ago and death isn't really something an eleven-year-old dwells upon. Now, for an eighteen-almost nineteen-year-old, death is the one thing that has troubled my mind for the past three months.
Three months. My heart skips a beat just thinking about seeing my brother again. I was used to Papa being gone. For most of our lives he has been gone for months at a time on business or touring the kingdom, but until the war, Brycen has never been gone for long periods of time. It has been very hard for me.
I pace the floor in front of the window seat in the library, my favorite place to be, and can't help casting anxious glances out the palace window. Oh, when would they get here?!
My father, King Mykal, and 25-year-old brother, Brycen, are finally coming home after three months of fighting in the war between our kingdom, Archirind, and our neighboring kingdom, Berirind. The King of Berirind, King Arden, has wanted to take over our kingdom ever since I was a little girl. Until recently, he has never acted upon that want. Then, about a year ago, he led an attack on Tycia, a large town on the edge of our kingdom. For my father, that was the last straw. Ever since then, every three months, he and Brycen go out to the frontlines to fight with our soldiers.
"Elaerya! Elaerya!" Little Jenisyn runs in to the library, breaking through my reverie.
"What is it, Nisy?" I ask, calling my sister by her pet name.
Jenisyn practically knocks me over as her dark, innocent eyes twinkle with excitement. "Papa and Brycen are home! Come on!" she says, pulling my arm.
I glance out the window and see their figures just riding through the gates and butterflies flutter in my stomach.
Finally! I quickly follow Jenisyn out of the library, picking up the skirt of my long, lavender gown. I am almost running as I follow her golden hair around a corner. At this point, I do not care that I am a princess and that all eyes are on the two of us as we run down the halls of the palace. Just the thought of seeing Brycen's face again brings tears of joy to my eyes.
Brycen and I have always been very close. With Mama's golden hair and Papa's emerald eyes, he is a good balance of both of them. He is strong-willed like our father, but has a gentle, caring nature, like our mother. For ten years, it was just the two of us before Jenisyn came. Don't get me wrong, we both love Jenisyn even more than our own lives, but there is an unspoken bond between Brycen and I. And because of Papa's favoritism toward Jenisyn because she looks so much like our mother, we have grown even closer. He is more like my best friend than my older brother. He is my protector.
Jenisyn is the first one to run down the palace steps and throw herself into Papa's arms. It is more tolerable for her to do that because she is eight-years-old. I, however, calmly, but excitedly, "prance" down the steps as Brycen jumps down from his horse and I wrap my arms around his neck. It feels so good to feel his embrace again. Three months is too long to be away, in my opinion.
"I've missed you so much, Brycen," I say, my face buried in his neck. He squeezes me tighter.
"I've missed you, too, Cecy. So much."
Ever since I can remember, Brycen has always called me Cecy. He is the only one who calls me that and as far as I know, nobody else knows about his nickname for me. I have always liked my second name, Cecily, better than Elaerya anyway.
"Did you get the letter I sent you?" I ask, pulling away slightly.
"I did. I loved it. And thank you for the sweets. Tryan and I enjoyed them very much," he says with a smile.
"I'm glad. I know they're your favorite."
Jenisyn lets go of Papa long enough for him to give me a hug.
"Oh, my Elaerya. How you have grown."
"It has only been three months, Papa," I laugh.
"But you have still grown into a young woman. More like your mother every day. And still just as stubborn, I presume," he laughs.
"Just as stubborn as you, Papa. You know me." I smile at him.
I am a lot like Papa, with his auburn hair and emerald eyes, as well as his attitude. I have always been stubborn and strong-willed, "like your father," my mother, Amarantha Cecily, once told me. It has often cost me a suitor or two…or six. Ever since I turned sixteen, every now and then, Papa has brought home a suitor for me. What Papa does not understand is that I want to marry for love, not for politics. He says that my mind has been clouded with the silly tales of love that I am so fond of reading. Perhaps he is right, but I cannot give up hope that there is someone out there waiting for me. He tells me that he and Mama weren't in love when they got married but grew to love each other and that the same would happen for me. But I want to be absolutely in love with the man I marry and I dream of the day I will meet my handsome prince or valiant knight and know right away that he is the one for me. So far, no handsome prince or valiant knight has ridden in on his shining steed.
Maybe my head is filled with unrealistic views of how love should be. Papa's suitors don't seem to enjoy my outspoken views. I always seem to open my mouth and then they politely take back their offer for marriage. That is why they call me Princess Elaerya Cecily Rochelle, the Heart of Archirind, because apparently, no one ever wants my heart. Not that I want theirs either.
"Tryan, please take our horses to the stables," Brycen says, pulling me out of my thoughts.
"Yes, your Highness." Tryan, Brycen's twenty-two year-old esquire, bows to us and takes the reins from Brycen.
"Come on, Papa! I want to show you everything that I've done since you've been gone!" Jenisyn pulls Father into the palace as Brycen takes my hand and leads me away from the castle towards the garden near the stables.
"So, Cecy, what have you been doing while we have been gone?"
"Not much. Keeping an eye on Jenisyn. Working on my studies with Marin. I have pretty much finished them now. How about you? How are things out there?"
"Not too good. Our troops are just barely keeping Arden's army from pushing forward. And we've been hearing rumors of spies in the kingdom."
"Spies? That's terrible."
"Yes, and father is fearing that it is getting too dangerous for you and Jenisyn to stay here unprotected."
"Does that mean you won't be going back?" I ask, hopefully.
"No, I have to go back." He pauses, as if unsure whether or not to tell me the rest. "Father is thinking of sending you and Jenisyn away."
"What?!" I exclaim. "Send us away? To where?"
"Well, Jenisyn he would send to the boarding school in Elveskold."
"But I am too old for boarding school now. I turn nineteen in a few days."
"I know. Papa still hasn't figured out what to do with you yet."
"He doesn't have to do anything with me! I am fine here!" I cannot believe my father is trying to send me away!
"I know you think that, but I have been out there on the frontlines. If the fighting reaches here, there is nowhere for you to go, Cecy. I don't want to leave you here unprotected."
"I won't be unprotected. I know how to defend myself."
"But only from what I have taught you. You would not know how to defend yourself from a whole army, or even just a scout party. We never know, Cecy, but we have to make absolutely sure that the two of you are safe."
"Well, what if I come with you and Papa? To the base camp, I mean. Then I will have a whole army to keep me safe."
"That would be even more foolish than leaving you here! It would make us an easier target."
Of course. How stupid of me. Why did I even suggest it? Just my presence could cost us greatly. My capture alone would be the perfect tool to force my father to surrender.
"I guess you're right," I say. "Besides, you don't need any more distractions."
We finally reach the pond in the garden where our mother spent a lot of time while she was alive. Brycen leads me over to sit on the stone bench next to the small waterfall.
"And now on to some very important business," he tells me in a serious voice, although I see a twinkle in his deep green eyes. "I have something special for you. I was going to save it for your birthday in two days, but I couldn't wait."
He smiles, and then reaches inside the collar of his shirt, pulling out a small, silver necklace. He reaches around the back of his neck and undoes the tiny clasp and holds the necklace out to me. I take it and examine the tiny details. It is a small, silver heart with swirls around the edges and engraved in the middle, in pretty letters, it says "Cecy."
"Oh, Brycen! It is beautiful!"
"You like it, Cecy?" he asks, taking the necklace from me to fasten it around my neck.
"I love it! It's perfect!" I say, wrapping my arms around his neck.
"I'm glad. I had it made especially for you. There's a nice little town outside of Tycia and I found a small jewelry shop. The shopkeeper was a very nice old woman named Imogene. She made it exactly the way I envisioned it."
"I really love it, Brycen. Thank you so much!"
"It's our little secret, Cecy," Brycen whispers. "You and I are the only ones who know about my special name for you."
I nod and tuck the necklace inside my dress. Brycen stands up and kisses me on the forehead.
"Happy Birthday, my Cecy. I love you."
I smile. "I love you, too, Brycen. Are you going inside?" I ask.
"Yes. Father and I have a lot to discuss."
"About me and Jenisyn," I state, matter-of-factly. "I'm telling you, I know how to take care of myself."
"I know you do," he says, holding his hand out for me. I take it and he pulls me to my feet. "We just worry about you and Jenisyn here without us."
I can see this is going nowhere. I'm going to have to leave whether I want to or not so it doesn't matter what I think.
"Very well," I sigh. "You and Papa do your 'discussing.' I'm going to go get my book from the library and come out here and read."
"That sounds like a good idea. Thank you for understanding," he says, squeezing my hand.
We walk hand in hand back to the library while he tells me a funny story about the time a rabbit spooked Tryan's horse and threw him into a puddle of mud. My mind wanders, though, not really hearing him. How could Father do this? Send me away? How could I leave my home? The only place I've known for nineteen years. I wish there was some way I could convince him to let me stay.
"Thank you again for my birthday present," I say once we reach the library.
"You're welcome, Cecy." He hugs me. "Happy reading."
"Thanks," I smile.
I watch as he turns and heads down the hall. Sometimes I just wish I had a say in my own future. I wish I wasn't a girl and I wish I wasn't helpless in my father's eyes. I grab my book from the window seat and head back out to my bench by the pond. I get comfortable and start to read, trying not to think about Brycen and Papa inside discussing my exile.
I am so immersed in my book, that I don't hear the soft footsteps sneak up behind me. Then, a cold hand clamps itself over my mouth and a gruff voice hisses in my ear.
"Don't scream, Princess, or you'll regret it."