Weaving Moonlight

The first in the Tales of Terrahgonia series.
Lux Robertson has a destiny.
Prince Stefan wishes to shape his own.
Jamie Cooper just wants to belong.
What do these three teens have in common? They all have a legacy to uphold. But to do this means braving a war against the tyrannical false queen of Terrahgoina, a mystical land long ago forgotten by mortals. But with hidden secrets and traitors in their midst, they may not survive to save the kingdom.

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10. A Delicate Dance

Prince Stefan was particularly good at hiding his emotions. When one lived within the courts, learning to keep a mask was essential. Every now and then, however, he had to let rip his emotions. He could do that in his private gym. With his gloved hands, he pummelled the punching bags. The raging guitars from the boom box roared in the background. Here, he could be free.

 

His mother had a hold over him in a way that she did not have even on her many subjects. She was the woman who had given him life and raised him. When he had been given his own palace, his leash had been extended but nothing had changed. He was to be forever loyal to his mother, the queen. Now he was to marry. He wanted to be furious with her, but all he could think about was how close to death she had come. He had not been ready and he was far too weak to let her go- to kill her. He blasted the punching bag with an energy ball.

 

“Woah, I would not want to be that punching bag.” At this moment in time, this particular voice was one of the most unwelcomed. James the Moon Guardian, walked towards him with a confidence eerily like Quinlan. He held a lopsided smirk but it did not quite reach his eyes. There was a sadness to them that had not been there before they had met. He was completely inappropriately dressed for court with ripped jeans, combat boots, a plain t-shirt and that ridiculous trilby hat.

“I am not in the mood to deal with you, James.”

“Jamie. Call me Jamie.” Stefan said nothing, neither agreeing nor disagreeing to comply. “I heard what happened. Taravati told me.” Stefan’s brows shot up. She was the only person who knew about his partnership with Quinlan, the Unseelie King. After binding the Moon Guardian, there was no way he could be entrusted with such a secret. Surely Taravati would have known to leave that part out.

 

James might not have truly understood what was happening to him, but knowing and truly understanding made the prince far guiltier that he could admit. He had not cast a simple hypnotism, and he knew of Jamie’s visits to Náströnd, a land within Niflheim. If something was not done soon, the Guardian could be driven to insanity.

“And what did she tell you?”

“That some awesome faery king had refused the queen, and she got miffed so then attempted to force him into submission, then nearly got killed. I wish you had let her die.” Before Stefan could stop himself, his fist connected with James’ face. James staggered but managed to stay standing.

“Don’t you ever speak that way about my mother!” Stefan bellowed, his blue eyes gleaming with rage. James wiped his bleeding lip with the back of his hand and narrowed his eyes slightly. Then he burst into hysterics.

“Alright Princey. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Your wish is my command.” He bowed from his waist, a mockery that Stefan would not normally put up with. Then James walked away. Something seemed off about him. He was not behaving normally. Whatever counted as normal behaviour for James the prince knew not, but somehow this did not constitute as normal.

“James!” Stefan called out after him. The other warlock turned around, obviously curious. “I’m sorry.”

“No,” James shook his head. “But you will be.”

 

James was unaware of what was truly happening to him, but Prince Stefan knew all too well. No ordinary hypnotism would have been able to control him so Stefan had to go deeper, and what was deeper than the soul? The prince had successfully divided Jamie’s soul, enabling his sheut, or shadow to gain full control. Controlling a sheut- one of the five parts of the soul- was far easier than controlling a ba, the personality, for him. The sheut was all the hidden natures of a person. It was their darkest part, their unfulfilled and repressed emotions. Guilt seeped through Stefan, filling his mind with thoughts of ‘what if’s?’ and ‘if only’s’. Regrets were for the weak, however, and sacrifices were needed. He was accepting of the fact that he would not be able to deliver the fatal blow to his own mother, but somebody else would have to. Stefan wondered whether watching his mother’s murder was just as bad as committing it.

 

***

Yolanda had begun busying herself with arranging Stefan’s engagement party. The prince in question could not help feeling sorry for himself, and he found it ironic that his own mother had never gotten married. The day was young and whilst Stefan’s main concern was his mother, she was already up and about pretending that the events of the day before had never occurred. She was the queen and it was important that she upheld appearances, but he got the feeling that she was avoiding the real problem. The ballroom was to be transformed into something extravagant, and she had made it her own personal mission to see its makeover to the end. Having never been used, as it had been one of the new editions to the palace, Yolanda had been threatening to arrange a ball there for months, in any case. Stefan headed for the ballroom after he was finished at his gym, and passed by a few servants running past. Perhaps he should not have been so surprised, but the fear that blazed in their eyes was disconcerting.

 

After navigating though the wide corridor, Stefan approached the grand gold and ivory door. His mother’s barking commands were not quite decipherable but the fact that he could hear them at all through the thick door was worrying. He would have to play his cards right. Dressed simply in a plain blue shirt and khaki chinos, the prince had a confidence only the wealth in Terrahgonia possessed. He watched after approaching Yolanda as she addressed the string quartet that stood in front of them.

“You sound worse than fighting alley cats! Worst still, you-” She pointed at a nervous and stressed middle-aged male violinist. His perspiration made it far too obvious. “Will never get anywhere in life if you cannot count in time. You do not deserve such an instrument, but I have no time to find a replacement so you will have to do.” The queen waved her hand and the man dropped his bow and violin, shortly before transforming into a violin and bow. It hovered in mid-air, not making a sound. “Now play from bar twenty on your own.” The instrument complied, playing gracefully and accurately. “Good, now I expect the rest of you to play as well unless you want to end up just like him. Go and take a ten minute break.”

 

Finally, Yolanda turned to greet and embrace her son.

“Stefan! What a pleasure to see you. I hope you are still alright for lunch.”

“Of course, mother,” he replied.

“I’m just whipping them into shape for the ball. There will be a full orchestra playing as well but I shall let the professional conductor deal with that. I have plenty on my plate.” Stefan finally took a moment to look around. The marble floor shone under the chandelier that hung from the centre of the high ceiling. The white and gold ionic columns were no longer as dusty, and golden curtains hung grandly by the vast windows. Mirrors surrounded the room, giving it the illusion of appearing larger. The ceiling arched slightly, decorated with elaborate and intricate frescos that bordered more mirrors.

“It looks…” ‘Over the top, unnecessary, incredibly expensive’, he thought to himself. “Magnificent. The chandelier is very grand.”

“Why, thank you. I am having two smaller ones put up too.” Stefan’s eyes popped out, almost out of his head, but he did not question her.

“Oh, do not look so alarmed. This place will be fabulous! I cannot wait until the wedding.” She chirped.

 

Stefan wanted to tell her that there would be no wedding, but even he could not be so sure. Although she was a master of manipulation, her son was obligated to wed a bride as and when she sought fit. Manipulating him would not be necessary. He was chained within the confines of his own wealthy lifestyle.  

“I am sure it will go well, mother.”

“Is there something that you wished to tell me?” He wanted to tell her everything in that moment. He hated the secrets, the trickery and the duplicity. He fought with himself for some time, trying to formulate a sentence. “Are you afraid?” She asked, genuine worry glittering in her eyes. She clasped his hand with her own to comfort him. It seemed too delicate to be the hand of a murder, and her touch left a spidery sensation. Yolanda’s shows of public affection were few and far, although it had not always been that way. He remembered a time when he felt like he could call his mother anything. He wanted to be that little boy again.

“Yes. I am petrified,” he admitted.

 

A small smile appeared on her lips, and she gently squeezed his hand.

“I understand that marriage is a daunting prospect, especially for a young man such as yourself.” Stefan hated that she was mothering him. It further deepened his love and respect for her. It would have been far easier if she had reprimanded him as a coward. “I assure you that your young bride will feel the same. It is quite alright to be afraid, so long as you do not let it hinder you, or this country.”

“I understand,” he nodded. “I will be strong for the kingdom.” At this, Yolanda pursed her lips.

“Can I let you in on a secret?” She whispered, stepping closer to her son. Stefan’s brows shot up in surprise. It was hardly the most secure placed to exchange secrets, but his mother did not wait for a response. “Sometimes, doing things for the sake of the kingdom is not enough. You should do things for the people you love. Do this for me.” Stefan felt his hand go clammy, and he knew that she would take a note of that.

“Of course, mother.”

 

With that settled, Yolanda’s smile reached her eyes for one unguarded moment.

“You were meant for great things. You will make me proud.” Unsure of an appropriated response, the prince caught the eye of his servant, Taravati, as she entered the ballroom. Her long hair cascaded down her shoulders, a river of darkness. She wore a plain knee length blue tunic today with black sandals. In the grandness of the ballroom, her appearance was out of place, but she held herself with the utmost confidence. She had indeed been born into royalty.

“Perhaps I could test out your musicians by having a dance with Tara.” Stefan suggested to his queen.

“A dance with who?” She balked.  

“My slave girl, Taravati.”

“I thought you said as much. I do not condone your pet name for her.” Yolanda pointed at the slave in question. “She is your slave. She is not to be coddled or adored. That is what pets are for.” Stefan had to stop himself from turning to see how Tara was taking it. It was one thing to say this behind her back; it was quite another to speak of her whilst she was in the room, as if she did not even exist.

 

“Mother, I asked for a dance with her, not to exchange friendship bracelets.”

“I was not born yesterday, Stefan. I have seen the way you look at her and I advice that you are careful.” Stefan shot her an incredulous expression, which she dutifully ignored. Taravati was his friend, and one of the only friends he had ever had. Yolanda looked at the servant girl with distaste, before smiling at her prince. “Have your dance, though. I must be off but I am sure that you can get the instrumentalists to play you a number.” She walked over to the string quartet, addressing the first violinist, and Stefan went to speak with Tara as she did so.

“Your Highness,” she curtsied. “The peasants are revolting in Antalya.” Her face was filled with worry lines, and she was chewing on her bottom lip in nervousness.

“The mortals?” Stefan asked, aghast.

“Yes. I was instructed to tell the queen, but…” She let her sentence trail off. There was no need for elaboration, as it was clear that she was afraid of the queen, and quite rightly so.

“Leave it to me.”

 

The prince walked over to his mother, who was on her way out.

“My queen, the mortals are revolting.”

“The slaves?” She asked.

“No, the Free Men and Free Women. The peasants, my queen.”

“Where?” Her voice was a snarl. “How dare they!”

“The capital city of Antalya.”

“Fine. I will have words with the General, but our lunch will not be interrupted.”

“Of course, mother.” He bowed his head in respect as she stalked off. Taravati seemed to count for a number of seconds until she allowed herself to breathe.

“She is not the sort of person you want to anger for any reason.” She stated, her eyes wide as she emphasised her words.

“I know,” Stefan could not help but give her a wry smile. “I have grown up with her.”

“Well, I apologise for that.”

 

Stefan stepped closer to her, and held her in a ballroom dance posture. His left hand clasped her right hand, whilst his right supported her back.

“Stefan, do we have to? She is not here.”

“Exactly. After all, it was I who suggested it.” He took her right hand and placed it on his shoulder. The prince nodded at the string quartet and they earnestly began playing.

“I hate the way she talks about me as if I am a commodity.” Tara growled.

“I hate to remind you, but you are my slave, which means that you are indeed a commodity.” Stefan spun her around to the music as the tempo increased ever so slightly, keeping his straight posture. Tara’s jaw tensed in frustration and anger burned in her eyes but she kept her silence. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, but this is the way it has to be, for now.”

“I understand,” She nodded. “What did she mean when she mentioned the way you look at me?” Stefan’s throat constricted as he was caught off guard. He concentrated on the steps of the waltz as they glided across the floor.

“She…umm…” Needless to say, the prince was embarrassed beyond explanation.

“My, my,” His friend giggled quietly. “The Crown Prince has been rendered incapable of speech. I guess there truly is a first time for everything.”

“Indeed,” Stefan chuckled.

 

The way Taravati’s usually hollow eyes lit up as they danced gave the prince a surge of happiness. Just for a moment or two, as her midnight hair breezed as he spun her, around and around, they were both free. They smiled at each other with a look of unguarded content, neither one defining the other by their rank or status. It was a cheerful, lilting melody, heavily featuring the first violin. The second violin did a bit of accompanying and often joined in with an opposing melody, for a contrapuntal texture. The viola and cello were left with the simple accompanying, giving the tune its bounce. It was one of Stefan’s rare moments of true happiness.

“I feel exactly the same way, Stefan.” Tara whispered, shortly before wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning in for a kiss. For a number of seconds, it was as though the prince had traded one breath-taking moment for another. Then music stopped and he came to his senses. Her lips had been soft and supple, her emotions raw. She had worn her heart on her sleeve, and for the briefest of moments, Stefan had done the same by returning her kiss.

 

He felt a shadow pass through him like a blanket of ice. The prince suppressed a growl that threatened to erupt, as pain seared through his stomach as though a knife had stabbed him. It was a familiar pain- a warning. Stefan pushed his slave away from him and she stumbled slightly before regaining her balance.

“On your knees, slave!” He commanded. Her name did not matter anymore. She had no home, no family, and no rights. She was no one.

“But Stefan, I-”

“You are to address me as your master. Do I make myself clear?” He glared at her as though she were an insignificant specimen. Tears were welling up in her eyes but the prince showed no sympathy. She stood before him with her back firmly erect in defiance, and her chin held high. This must have been the Taravati of the Nisyrai Court that he had seen hints of. Never before had she stood so boldly, so directly impertinent. If she were not careful, it would one day cost her life. The prince took a step closer to her with a serious expression etched onto his face. “Do not make me repeat myself, slave!” Stefan struck her in the face, a heart wrenching ‘snap’ resonating as his palm connected with cheek. Although the prince was going for anger, it was pure desperation that he was voicing, as he could not beg her to obey him for her own safety.

 

After recovering from her shock, Taravati sunk to her knees, one palm rested on the cheek that had been smacked.

“Yes, master. I am sorry, master.”

“You cannot even begin to imagine how sorry you will be, slave.” Stefan’s voice was filled with venom, masking the fear just beneath it. Never before had he hit his friend. “Do not touch me again. Now get out of my sight.” With that, she was dismissed. Stefan was left with the violin quartet who stood in awkward silence. “Who said you could stop playing?” The prince barked. The quartet resumed their melody as Stefan stormed out of the ballroom.

“You did the right thing, dear.” A voice called out: The voice of his mother, his queen. “It was good that you put her out of her misery. It would have been cruel to lead her on into believing that you cared for her, especially romantically!” Stefan had known all along that she had been watching, but it was still unnerving when she came from behind to speak to him, finally becoming manifest. “Just keep her in line if you insist on keeping her.” The prince turned to briefly look at his mother.

“Of course,” he nodded, wishing he could be honest about his feelings. In that short moment of pleasure as he had kissed Taravati, he truly had not been leading her on. Restraining himself and acting in such a vile manner towards the one he cared so dearly for broke his heart.

 

To fool his queen, he had to be something he loathed. To love his friend, he had to be cruel. It was a delicate dance, neither black nor white. A dance he found himself leading, unless he wished to become Yolanda’s puppet. It was critical that he did not lose himself in his own web of lies, or he could lose all sense of his true identity.

 

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