Episode 1 - Chapter 1
As I gazed out the window of the carriage, staring at trees I’d never seen before passing by, I felt my heart pick up its pace. Every rotation of the wheels beneath me brought me closer to Qavash, the capital city of Larqtyr, and my new home.
To say that it excited me was an understatement to the extreme. Inside, it felt as if I could barely contain myself, yet somehow I sat in a perfectly poised manner, with my hands in my lap and a serene smile on my face. This mask I wore was one that I had perfected years ago—I may not have grown up in the royal court like the other ladies-in-waiting I would soon meet, but I had plenty of practice with courtly politics.
“Hm?” I answered immediately, before I had even finished turning my head.
Grandmama smiled kindly at me from across the carriage. “How are you?”
Oh, what a tricky question!
I couldn’t tell her that my heart was pounding overtime because I couldn’t wait to meet new people and see new sights and finally live outside the walls of our duchy. I couldn’t tell her I hadn’t been able to sleep for several days because I kept thinking about how my life would finally begin.
I could never say these things to dear Grandmama, because she was too sensitive of a soul, and she fretted about me to no end. And because it was her and Grandfather that had kept me so closely guarded my entire life. If she knew how much I longed for the outside world, it would break her heart.
So I said none of these things.
“I’m hopeful,” I said, instead, returning her smile with one of my own.
“Oh, that’s good, that’s very good,” she said. “You’re not nervous?”
I laughed. “Of course I’m nervous!”
Her eyes widened, and I silently cursed myself for not thinking before speaking. This excitement had to be getting to me if I was being so lax with my grandmother.
“I only meant that meeting the Royals again is bound to make anyone nervous,” I said hastily. “I haven’t seen Amali for years…”
Her Royal Highness Amali Fateate was the princess of Larqtyr, and though we had been playmates many years ago, we hadn’t seen each other since we were both tiny little elves. I worried that she wouldn’t like me anymore, that there would be no place for me in her court even though I had been promised a position as her lady-in-waiting.
Just because the position was mine, didn’t mean I would be welcome. Surely the other ladies-in-waiting had been there for years, maybe even stretching back to those childhood days I thought were special.
“Princess Amali will be glad to see you,” Grandmama said, bringing me back to the present.
“I hope so,” I said, and put more confidence into my tone than I truly felt.
I glanced back at the window just in time to see the Capitol in the distance. It was nestled in the valley of four mountains, and I could see the palace even from a distance. The sight of it was enough to take my breath away, even as a stone seemed to settle in my stomach.
For I had noticed something that I hadn’t seen on the maps I’d studied—walls. Walls all around the city.
No, this couldn’t be! I couldn’t have traded walls for more walls! My heart felt like it was breaking.
Still, I said nothing, did nothing, to give away my true feelings.
I had to be grateful for the opportunity they had given me; I tried to remind myself, rather than mourning the one for which I’d wished. At the very least, there was an entire city full of new people to meet, and no doubt there would be adventures to be found. There had been adventures at home.
This gave me some small sense of comfort, and I clung to it.
Grandmama and I lapsed into a comfortable silence again for the rest of the journey, for which I was grateful. I didn’t want to accidentally let on to how I was feeling.
The carriage stopped at the gates, and I heard muffled voices outside; our driver providing our travel papers, the guard checking them. A moment later we were moving again, and my stomach turned into knots. We were in the city now, and suddenly I didn’t dare look outside.
I didn’t dare see the city, for now that we were here…it petrified me.
But it was more than just the normal anxiety that no doubt would come with traveling to a new place. I was scared that if I looked out at the walled-in city, I would be horribly disappointed. I didn’t want to deal with that just now; I didn’t want to lose the hope I’d been kindling in my heart this entire journey.
With a soft sigh, I clasped my hands in my lap and looked down at them as the carriage rolled through the city. Grandmama said nothing, either, and though I wondered what was going on in her head…The wonder was not so great that I would ask.
Then the carriage came to a halt once more. It’s final halt.
My stomach filled with butterflies, my heart thudded irregularly inside my chest, and my mouth felt dry as the desert I’d never seen.
The door opened, I heard it, but my eyes were closed.
Right. I summoned every moment of training I had endured and opened my eyes, plastering a serene smile on my lips.
I took the offered hand and stepped out of the carriage and into the light.