The Loneliest Traid

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  • Published: 2 Apr 2017
  • Updated: 13 May 2017
  • Status: Complete
Love and death and war and Gods and blood and magic and dancing and rest and revenge and kings and fate.
Don't worry, within these three stories you'll know yourself,
And I will put you back together again.

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26. Beauty Does Not Shed, like the Skin of a Snake, but Instead Grows, like Pretty White Lies

They reached the castle not long after that, Ichais choosing to stay awake and keep walking, and despite her failing lungs, Estha agreeing.  She couldn’t bare to hear what Ichais thought of her again, or anyone else’s take, for that matter.  She pulled the scarf tighter, the wind blowing right through her.

    Ichais did not want to look at Estha, at how small she was, and how her nose turned rosey in the cold, at how unsolicitedly kind she was.  Though she lived a bitter, evil life, sometimes Ichais too wished that she could have a life - even if alone - that she could hurt no one more.  Estha, although lonely, was that girl, and a symbol of all the good in the world that Ichais would never get to be, and never get to touch.

    The castle, unlike that of King Dyrad, was built into the hillside.  Miles down, lava ran through bends like the bleeding knuckles of a wick.  The stone was black marble, flecks of purple coursing through it.  The palace itself was rounded, the main hall the first thing for the two to meet, where Ichais was meet with applause and cheers and raised glasses of sparkling wine.  

    “The adventurer returns,” the king cried out, “And on the eve of our ball, I suspect that you have a knack for knowing when the worst moment is, Ithais.”

    “That’s not my name,” she said, peeling his fat fingers from her shoulder.

    “Either way, take off your coat, and - please - bring me the spell books.”

    Ichais looked to Estha, who didn’t meet her eye, so she did as she was asked, handing over the coat.     

    “Estha,” she said, “Would you?”

    From her pocket, she took out the set of books that had saved her life and now seemed like bitter reminders or gloats.  She looked to Ichais, who never looked back when a duke took her hand and lead her away to be reacquainted with a royal that was unimaginably beautiful, and yet a dim light compared to Ichais herself.

    She seems happy, Estha thought, she’s where she’s meant to be, clearly.

    “Girl, the books?” the king called for her.

    “Yes, of course.”

    She handed them to him, and he didn’t bother even read them, but instead smelled the forest sap and pine from the pages, “Do you know why I wanted these, girl?”

    “N-No, your highness.”

    “Because they are the last writings on spells in the entire elven collection.  I have it all now, and with the help of a few small tribes, I will control all the magic in Cardeni once and for all.  Tell me, dear, how wonderful is that?”

    The hair on his drunken-blushed nose was wiry, his eyes bloodshot, his hand groping at his hips.  The heat in the room seemed sweltering under the scarf and not for the first time, she felt the panic set in when she couldn’t see Ichais nearby.  Her heart raced in her chest as his hand crept lower, his breath sticky and suffocating, fanning across her face.

    “W-Wonderful.”

    “I’ll rule the world, darling.”

    “Yes, a-a-and-”

    “And anything I want will be mine.”

    She jumped away just as his hand fell too low, “I have to go.  Now.”

    “Yes, quite,” he said merrily, clapping his hands together, “Ladies and gents, gather around.  Dinner has ended with a parcel we have patiently awaiting the arrival of, and thanks to these two beautiful girls, is home safe once more.”

    The crowd cheered, and Estha saw a few men grab at Ichais and shake her shoulders in pride, like children, like dogs.  Ichais fit it to the handsome room well, her smile blinding, her eyes alive.  She belonged here, and Estha did not.

    “Let the ball begin!  Ladies, dress these two, will you?”

    The women squealed and clapped, and pulled Ichais towards their dressing rooms down the halls.  The men cheered for her, egging her on, but she hardly noticed when the king’s words set in.

    “A ball?” Estha saw her mouth, their eyes locked.  

    Estha then saw it, the uncomfort in how Ichais saw the girl in the room.  In the beautifully shadowed world of glamour and royalty and jewels, Estha stood as the burrow girl, hidden away as a shameful secret created by mistake.  But what Ichais didn’t know was that Estha felt the same about herself.  She was not meant to be there, in dress, in crown.  A thief did not deserve to be there at all.

    “Go on, won’t you, dear?” king Sinder said, and Estha realised that she was not meant to be there when the women had all gone to share their dresses and gems with Ichais, leaving Estha between the bloated drunkard king, and the line of male suitors that watched her stand there alone, and laughed.  

    She felt the king’s hand reach below her spine, and push her towards the doors with a pinch.  She let out a yelp she couldn’t help, and the men laughed harder.

    For once in her life, she wished she was dead, or at least safe and warm back with her family, hidden where she belonged, in the damp and dark.  

    “Now, father, that’s quite enough,” a voice said, a hand linking within hers, “Don’t you have to be ready too?”

    “Yes, yes, you’re right, son.  Darling, meet my eldest and great successor, prince Cinis.”

    She looked up at him, the towering man he called his son.  Though his smile was false and all an act, he was undoubtedly handsome, and in fact intrigued by girl before him, her covered face, her kind eyes.  He leaned forward, but when she turned away, so did he.

    “Come with me, I’ll show you to the dress room.”

    She paused for a moment, checking the ties on her scarf.

    “If you’ll let me?”

    She sighed, taking his arm and nodding.

    They seemed happy at this, or perhaps entertained.  Estha seemed to be just that, entertaining.

    He nodded to his friends, that went back about their business preparing for the dance.  He showed her down a dark hall, and another, and another.  Unlike the elven castle, there were few windows, and all were high up and stain glass.  Torches lined the walls, embers untouched since the night before, she presumed.

She watched a shadow appear by her foot, scampering and its claws even pressing through her leather shoes.

She screamed, jumping back for him to pull her into the chest.  She felt his laugh vibrate through her body, his arms tied around her waist like snakes, choking her first.

“Scared of mice?” he said.

“A little,”

“It’s some castle, I’ll admit.  But-” he opened the last door in the hall with a flourish, “It’s home.”

She felt her mouth fall open as she stepped inside.  The walls were different in here, a clear red, layers of crystal so dense in became solid, flowers pressed between each rock.  There was a queen sized bed taking up the centre of the room, its canopy silk, no expenses missed.  Wall to wall, the room held mirrors and cabinets of all sizes, made for a princess, unmistakably.

“Where are the others?” she asked, picking up a music box from the desk.  A fairy turned to a song unfamiliar to her, and yet trickling, breathtaking.

The prince had the honour and sense to not enter with her, “Oh, the others?  The maid’s quarters, I imagine.”

“And this is?”

“I hope you don’t mind,” he said, “This was my sister’s room once.  She was about your size, I invite you to use what hasn’t been donated at your disposal.  The hall is just back a few corridors, I’m sure if you’re lost you can follow the sound of music, it’s usually ear splitting, if my father is conducting from the sidelines as usual.”

She opened a wardrobe, taken aback by the dresses that she saw still untouched.  They seemed recently made, and made for her, although her mind told her otherwise.  She took one out, the same red as the curtains, tied in ribbons plush and silver.

“This was your sister’s room?  The princess?”

“Yes, once.”

“And what happened to her?”

Cinis seemed stuck at this, but he was royal, and they recovered quickly it seemed in both the speed of the reply and the story itself.

“She left, found another calling, I suppose you could say.  I should leave you, but- Wait, I never got your name?”

“Estha,” she said.

“Estha,” he said, nodding, deciding that it fit on his royal tongue just enough, “Well, take one of these before you leave.”

He turned to a far press, opening it to reveal a grand selection of masks of various colours, shapes, and abilities to hide her.

“Thank you, your highness.”

“Please,” he said, sweeping into a low bow that Estha had never received before, “Call me Cinis.  And if you will?”

She nodded.

He turned in the doorway, throwing her the same false, royal, beautiful smile, “Save a dance for me?”

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