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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14. Soothsayer

Stefan had the faint feeling of someone shaking him.

            Tara has chosen the wrong day to irritate me.

He hadn’t remembered falling asleep. How could he fall asleep after such a terrible night?

            “I’m sorry it’s come to this, friend,” a very familiar voice stated, unapologetically.

            Stefan caught Erin’s wrist before his hand could connect with his face. He opened his eyes to see Erin’s dark gaze and fiery hair, akin to a blazing halo in the reflection of the light.

            “I told you never to disturb my sleep,” the prince fumed. “This is my palace, damn it!”

            “Quit your temper tantrum.” Erin replied, grabbing back his wrists. He moved away from Stefan’s bed and made a big show of opening the adjacent curtains. “You will be having breakfast with Princess Araceli of Iraklion, and later on, lunch with Princess Melinda of Kazmali.”

            “And these are the princesses my mother deems the most suitable to wed, I take it.” Stefan sighed, already exasperated.

            “You know what our queen is like.”

            Stefan viewed Erin as an older brother— but not by much. He was Yolanda’s ward, as he himself had been orphaned, and thus they had grown up together side by side. He had been away with Yolanda for the past few months. She had wanted him to train as a soldier and to one day become a General, or an advisor if he was not suited to warfare. Erin just wanted to be an inventor. The queen had humoured him and permitted the aspiring scientist to work as an apprentice to Colma Croos, a renowned Technopath and inventor.

            “How many times should I have had you hanged by now?” Stefan asked. It was a game they played. Erin had always had a habit of waking Stefan too early. The young prince had long ago threatened to hang him. At the time, he had been deadly serious. It still made them both laugh.

            “I believe this is the fiftieth,” Erin chuckled.

            “Only? I had thought it to be more.”

            “You always were on overzealous boy.”

            Stefan slumped out of his bed and walked towards his bathroom. “I’ll be ready shortly. Is the princess here?”

            “Yes. She’s dying to meet you.” There was an underlying scathing tone of jealously.

            “Then tell princess Chelsea that I apologise for keeping her waiting.”

            “Princess Araceli, your Highness.”

            “Oh, my mistake.”

            “I forgot to tell you.” Erin stated. “My true powers were finally interpreted.”

Most humans within the three kingdoms, and the Lone Islands, respectively, only had one or two powers. They were known as Spellmans, for they needed spells to create great feats of magic. The rarer sorts were known as Virtuosos because they had a natural affinity for magic of all sorts. There were only twelve Virtuoso families in all the history of the kingdoms, and two had long ago disappeared. Stefan knew he should have cared more about Erin’s Interpretation Ceremony, but he just had too much to think about. Everything in his plans were unravelling before him. James was spiralling into insanity, Lux was emotionally traumatised, and Shadow was free to cause all kinds of untold destruction. He just hoped that the deal he had struck with Shadow— the creature he was now to know as Vasvi-Shyama— would be worth it. He could always double-cross him. A back up plan was to be initiated.

            But for now, breakfast was essential.

           

            Stefan had settled on a grey suit and periwinkle shirt. His mother had often enough reprimanded him on his preferable all black apparel, deeming it unsuitable for court. When Prince Stefan came outside towards the gazebo, he saw his mother near by, approaching him.

            “Please be nice to this one sweety,” She insisted, squeezing his arm affectionately. “She could be true queenship material.”

            “I shall try,” he replied, unsmiling. He was a bit distracted by Erin’s strange facial expression. He seemed to be lingering for no particular reason.

            Pleased enough with his response, Yolanda left her son, her eyes flashing pink for but a moment before becoming blue again.

            Erin walked towards him.  

            “It appears that I have a date right now,” Stefan reminded him. “Can it wait?”

            Erin shook his head. “Where is your shadow? You have no shadow.”

            How could he possibly know that? Erin gripped Stefan’s shoulder and images of last night’s events filled Stefan’s head. Everything he had witnessed of the ritual that James and Shadow had performed came into the forefront of him mind. He could sense Erin somehow absorbing all of this knowledge. When the flashback ended, Erin’s face had reasonably paled but he said nothing of the vision, seeming to attempt to keep his expression placid.

            “I hope you find your shadow,” he said. As soon as Erin tried walking away, Stefan grabbed him by the forearm.

            “What did you see?”

            “See?”

            “I wasn’t born yesterday, Soothsayer.”

            Erin gulped, perhaps unsure of what to say. “A great evil has been awakened, and the Moon Guardian has something to do with it. That is all I know.”

            Stefan glared at him momentarily.

            “I did try to tell you about my Interpretation Ceremony, you know. I wasn’t expecting Soothsayer. I’d hoped to be a Technopath, like Colma.”

            Stefan feared that Erin was withholding something crucial. “Is that everything you saw?”

            “I wouldn’t lie to you, Stefan. We’re practically brothers. I’m just the smarter one, and you got the good looks.”

            Stefan relaxed quite noticeably. “This stays between us, Erin. If you see anything else, then let me know.”

            “Of course.”

            As Erin passed Stefan to leave him, the prince saw his shadow and he knew for a fact that he had lied. Soothsayers were meant to be truth tellers. They were akin to Oracles, but they could only see the past and the present— things that were known. The future was often described as ever changing. As Guardian of Darkness, Stefan could see a person’s deepest emotions, and Erin was equal parts guilt and fear. His shadow was quivering with it. But the question remained: could he be truly trusted?

***

 

           

Taravati served Stefan and Araceli during their breakfast. It was more awkward than Stefan had envisioned. She was wearing an authentic chiton of green fabric with a luxurious himation. The fey and elves had brought about an Ancient Greek and Roman revival that Stefan refused to be involved with. Even Yolanda had indulged it. Princess Araceli opted for a white toga with a golden girdle. After the formalities of introduction, Stefan had remained rather subdued, allowing the princess to steer the conversation.

            “So is it true that the only reason you and the queen are settling for the Lone Islands is because Kazarai refused to have anything to do with the war?” She asked.

Araceli seemed to be rather politically inclined. She appeared to be well educated and caring, but a bit too ambitious for Stefan’s taste.

            “Well I would not want you to think that I was settling for you,” he replied. Taravati scoffed as she brought in the second round of drinks. Araceli gave her a dangerous glare. “Or any of the other princesses, although your beauty and intelligence outshines them all.” She had the graciousness to blush. Behind her, Stefan saw Tara mock-strangling herself. She knew it was all an act and if not for the clear resentment filled in her eyes, he might have smiled, truly smiled.

            Unfortunately, things had been very unsettled since the day he had struck her. He wished she understood that it was for her own protection, but she had not wanted to hear it.

            “I have a question.” The prince stated. “I hope it doesn’t seem too random.”

            “Ask away,” Araceli insisted, before taking another bite of her entrée.

            “My brother is having girl problems.”

            “I thought you were a single child.”

            “Yes, but I like to view Erin as a brother. After all, I have known him practically my whole life.”

            “Of course. The queen mentioned him, in passing.”

            In passing. Erin did always get the short end of the stick.

            “Well, he is having trouble adequately expressing an apology to this girl he is involved with,” he explained. That caught Tara’s attention. When unneeded, she gave the couple quite a bit of a berth, whilst remaining in the gazebo. “He did something he should not have and he just wants to ensure that she knows that he cares very deeply about her.”

            Tara’s jaw clenched.

            “Well, he cannot go wrong with a gift. It just has to come from the heart. Expensive jewellery and the like are nice, of course, but if there is no heart to it, it becomes meaningless.

            “I understand,” he nodded.

             “And how deep are Erin’s feelings, may I ask? Does he love this girl?”

            Stefan glanced at Tara very briefly, once more, and then looked past her, to the palace behind to mask that he had been looking at the curves of her hips, her luscious lips, and the depths of her eyes.

            “With all of his heart.”

            “Then his gift and his apology should come from the heart. Nothing short of bearing his soul will be adequate.”

            The advice he had been given was altogether better than he had hoped for, and unreachable. Though impressed to have been given a sincere response rather than a flighty answer filled with superficial thoughts, Stefan was not sure he could do what was required of him to attain the love of the one he cared for.

Nothing short of bearing his soul would be adequate. If only his soul were complete.

 

***

 

 Prince Stefan descended down the staircase behind the unnamed painting. James was no Technopath, so the fact that Stefan had learned of his breaking and entering was disturbing. Then again, he had been under the influence of Shadow. Stefan walked straight past all of the prison cells. Only a handful of prisoners were being kept in these dungeons, but they were all considered traitors to the crown. Stefan saw them as honourable rebels he could not save from the gallows, and so he tried to avoid eye contact. When he got to the back of the dungeon, he held out his hand and parted the veil of shadows only he could see. The private cell room here was better lit, with a far grander space. No bars or chains were needed here because escape was futile. Only a Guardian, or one with permission, could open the veil that attached this room to the palace dungeons, such was its power.

            The prisoner laid on his bed, reading a book— doubtlessly something on meditation or the like.

            “Hello, Pietro.” The prince greeted. “I hope I am not disturbing your reading.”

            Pietro closed his book and sat up, shaking his head. His dark hair had grown rather long, so he preferred to keep it tied in a band. He is clean shaven today. Last week there had been a stubble growing that had grazed—

            Stefan forced himself to think about anything else other than that previous visit. He took a seat on the leather three-seater sofa. Quite often, Taravati would join them. She was the only other person who knew about Pietro. Officially, the man was a traitor to the kingdom, and most importantly, he was safe for the mean time because he was thought to be dead.

            Pietro joined him, taking the middle seat. He did not say anything— could not say anything. Having been rendered mute by Yolanda, who had taken his voice, they only had one method of clear communication. Pietro gestured with two of his fingers to his mouth, meaning that he needed to speak.

            Stefan drew closer to Pietro, taking the other young man's chin with his hand in order to direct it. It was a rather intimate gesture, but it had proven necessary. Pietro opened his mouth slightly and the prince breathed into it. This was necessary to avoid further awkwardness, especially after what had happened the last time. The results had been quite alarming, and yet not altogether dissatisfying. 

            "It's been a while," Pietro stated, with Stefan's own voice. "I was afraid I had done something unforgivable."

Stefan merely shook his head. Communicating without a voice was difficult. "Tara popped by though. She's filled me in on your engagement party. She's a good friend. You both are. You help me not go... insane." 

            The crack in his voice was enough to tear a bit of his heart. Stefan— who was known throughout the kingdoms for his cold exterior— was being undone by the very same man who had once sought to kill him. There were no words to mend a broken soul, so instead, Stefan went against what his mind was telling him and held his hand. He hoped it did not seem overly affectionate, but he was glad it elicited even the faintest of smiles from Pietro. 

            "I'm sure you didn't just come here to hear my whining and mad ravings. What else has been going on?"

            Stefan was disappointed when he realised Pietro had withheld his hand. The prince made a hand gesture to indicate to Pietro that he should come closer. The rogue complied and he was irritated when his stomach produced knot works as his warm breath touched him. They had done this many times before but these feelings were new and raw. 

            "I've had a pretty shit time too, Pietro."

            The exile rolled his eyes and used his finger to point towards his tear duct, and drew a vertical line. This indication meant, "Cry me a river," and it was one of his many silent retorts. So to prove the reality of the situation, Stefan told him everything, including the two other Guardians, his encounter with the Unseelie king, and the ritual. He left out the part about giving up his shadow to Vasvi-Shyama and what he was to gain in exchange. He hated withholding information, but it seemed prudent.

            “I know I have to kill Yolanda. She would never willingly give up her power. But despite her faults, she is still my mother. I don’t want to kill her. I don’t think that I could.” Pietro listened to him attentively, intense green eyes perusing his facial expressions. “I’m sorry. I must sound so weak to you.”

Pietro shook his head and motioned Stefan to come closer. Assuming Pietro wanted him to lend his voice, Stefan opened his mouth slightly. Instead, the other young man leaned his head on the crook of his neck. Stefan stiffened slightly and Pietro backed away slowly, sensing his indignation. There was hurt in his eyes, but he nodded slightly in understanding. He indicated with his hand that he wished to speak and although Stefan was apprehensive to get too close to the rogue, he obliged nonetheless. He felt his voice leave him and moved his head back. Pietro caught the back of his head before he could move much further, tilting his head.

“There is strength in showing mercy,” he said. Stefan swallowed deeply and took back his voice.

“Like the way you showed me mercy when you tried to assassinate me?”

He had hit a nerve and he knew it. The two had tried to move on from Pietro’s assassination attempt but it was still there, an unresolved matter neither of them wished to speak of. It was in the past, and as it was they were to be allies for mutual benefit. [WM1] Pietro understood that, but lately he had not been acting particularly rational.

Who knew a kiss could change so much?

The anguish in Pietro’s eyes was clear enough, whether he vocalised it or not. He pointed an accusing finger at the prince, shaking his head. Don’t go there, it meant. But Stefan was not ready to let it go. Love is weakness, his mother had told him.

“What is the point of avoiding this any longer, Pietro? You tried to kill me. You might have succeeded had you not been so weak-minded.” Pietro looked taken aback. He raised his brows, and gave him a bitter grin.[WM2]  Still, Stefan went on. “You are nothing more than a failed little rogue assassin. You would be nothing more than a corpse had I not saved you from execution.” Stefan wanted to take it back as soon as he said it. All Pietro had tried to do was comfort him. Why had he lashed out? They were meant to be friends.

Pietro stood up then, and stared intently at him, but it appeared that he saw something very different from what he had seen before. The other man looked at Stefan with loathing and disgust, and he honestly could not blame him. But he did not utter a word. He was silent as the grave, just as he would have been had he truly died that day. He nodded at Stefan, but it was not one of compliance. The nod said that he knew what he was, but it was also a silent challenge. Did he regret saving him? Would he execute him now? Stefan’s mouth went dry and he finally looked away from Pietro’s gaze. The other man walked away, gazing instead at the ceiling, an illusion which Stefan had fashioned to look like the sky. They remained like that for a few drawn out moments— silent and immobile.

“I know you could have killed me that day,” Stefan finally said. “Truly and honestly, I know you had the power, and although I’m grateful that you didn’t, you have proved to me one thing. There is no strength in mercy.” Pietro turned around to look at him and as calmly as the sea before the storm, he walked towards the prince and exchanged his voice.

“If you wish to prove that you are that which Yolanda sought to craft, that you are her idea of a strong prince, then do it. Kill me and find out if that is what you wish.” He transferred Stefan’s voice back to him and crafted a sword of ice from the use of his ka. Kneeling in front of the prince, Pietro placed the sword by his neck and gave it to Stefan. The prince met his eyes and a pang of guilt and sorrow filled him. Love is weakness, he reminded himself. He raised the sword and saw Pietro lower his head in submission. Gritting his teeth, Stefan prepared himself. He is a traitor. He deserves to die, he told himself. His heart felt the hurt all over again. Knowing that one of his closest friends had been the one to betray him had been a major blow to Stefan. He had to end this.

As Stefan made the arc that would sever Pietro’s head, he stopped himself and dropped the ice sword.

“I cannot kill someone I care so deeply for,” he admitted. Pietro raised his head to gaze at his would-be executioner. “I want to believe there is strength in love and mercy, I do. But that will always appear as weakness in her eyes. And I am weak for loving you.”

Stefan saw Pietro try to reach his hand out towards him, but it was too late. He was already on his way out. How such an admission had been elicited from his lips, he would never understand, but such emotion was not a luxury he could afford.

Not for the first time, Stefan wondered what use there was in having a heart if it only weakened him. Pietro was the living example of that.

The battle against Yolanda would end with her death, or Stefan’ demise. There was no other way around that so long as her will remained ironclad.

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