Slumber of the Moon • Tale of the Princess | ch. 7

Chapter Seven: Tears and Tragedy {Larmes et tragédie}

None of the blustering men who poked and prodded Veranna made any difference. That prince called the men doctors. Iren called the men incompetent.

“Let me go to the forest. There might be something in there that can cure her. There’s got to be.”

The Prince looked at him coldly.

“You have done enough.”

“You could do more.”

The Prince’s eyes narrowed.

“And you still accuse me. What have I done to earn your distaste? It could not be Veranna. She would not speak ill of me?”

“No. She wouldn’t.”

“Well.” The Prince turned back to Veranna, propped in a chair, still frozen. “I am not sure what you’ve done to her, but I must fix it. She cannot – she must not – stay like this.”

“Because of the curse?”

“Ah!” Turning his head, the Prince’s eyes flashed. “So, she told the tale, did she?”

“Tale?” Iren placed his hands on the crown of the chair. The sheath of his sword bumped against the gilded back.

“So, she did not tell you?”

“She told me enough.”

The Prince’s lips twitched.

“Did she?”

At Iren’s silence, the Prince smiled and shrugged. “It is a sad tale–”

“Don’t tell me. If there’s something I don’t know, I’d rather wait for Veranna to tell me.”

The Prince glanced at Veranna.

“You may be a long time waiting.”

“Don’t care. And if you’ve got nothing, I’d like you to leave.”

Laughing, the Prince stepped toward Iren and Veranna. “You think you can–”A moonlit blade, luminous and silver, pointed toward the Prince’s heart. Iren held the sword to the left of the chair. The silver luminosity danced over Veranna’s cheek; her eyelashes trembled.

“Now, I really thought we had moved beyond this. When will you trust me?”

“Why should I?”

“Why shouldn’t you?”

Uncertainty crawled into Iren’s mind. He had been so sure…The illusions in the castle, the fountains of knives, the sickening repulsion at meeting the Prince. He had thought there was a connection, some source all shared. And the only thing it could be was this wretched Prince. Who else could it be? Who else controlled this realm and controlled Veranna, other than the Prince? But what if Iren was wrong?

Memories surfaced. Trails of blood. A dark forest. A cold trail. Cracked branches. Snapped twigs. Footprint in clay. And then… For what? Safety and protection and duty adhered, only to disintegrate into rubble. A thick oily bile rose in Iren’s chest, sticky and stinging. What if he made the wrong choice again?

Looking down, he saw the moonshine fused to the blade gleam on Veranna’s lashes. A tear shone in the corner (of her left eye). It shone blue as a sapphire. Iren’s skin tingled as a sizzling tremor shot through him. He tightened his grip on his sword.

“Maybe I shouldn’t. But you’ve still got to leave. I am Veranna’s protector and I don’t want you near her right now.”

The Prince opened his mouth.

“Don’t. I will strike you. I don’t want to. She wouldn’t want that. If you care for Veranna at all, leave.”

Pale blue eyes narrowed, and the Prince shrugged. Stepping back, the Prince held up his hands.

“This match is yours. But I will be back. Her welfare is…very valuable to me. I’d be displeased if you harmed her anymore.”

When Iren said nothing, the Prince crept slowly out the door.

Kneeling beside Veranna, Iren placed his sword across her lap. Its cool luminosity cut through the shimmering gold of her dress and fell across her face like the shadow of a thousand pearls. The sapphire tear, tapped in her eye, fell. Plink! A blue ripple vibrated across the blade and vanished. Veranna gasped and burst into tears. These were clear ones, and Veranna hunched over the blade, weeping into her hands.

“I’m so, so sorry.” Iren clenched his fist, then gently touched his forehead to hers, where it lay almost at her knees. “I’m sorry for whatever I did.

Veranna’s weeping soon trickled to sniffles. Lifting her head, she half-smiled, eyes red.

“I am terrible.”

“No.”

“I shouldn’t have told the story.”

“No! No. That wasn’t it, don’t think.”

Wiping her eyes, Veranna finally noticed the sword in her lap. Fresh tears sprang to life. She sucked in a deep breath.

“It…” Veranna swallowed. “It makes me sad. So terribly, terribly sad. And lonely.”

“But it brought you back. You froze up.”

“Did I?”

“Yeah. No one could help you.”

Veranna’s smile softened, and she touched her forehead against his.

“But you did. I thank you for that.”

“Even if was fault it happened?”

“Even so. Odd as it seems, I find, somehow, with my sadness, I am glad as well.”

When the Prince finally deemed Veranna well enough to attend the Court, it was the eve of the mid-season ball. Equally nervous and excited, Veranna chose a blue gown, the shade of twilight, bodice embroidered in hematite. The shiny metallic gemstone formed the outline of lilies. Her hair she pinned in place and wove with lilies.

The ballroom shone with candles. Situation on a lintel that encircle the whole ballroom, the candles cast gold light over the colorful glass that hung from the mantle from white and red ribbons. At the center stood a glass pillar. Its many angles reflect the dancers and candles. Unlike the orbs, it was colorless, with only the faintest gray gloss. The prince greeted Veranna as soon as she entered.

“Splendid!” Cairod grabbed her hands. He surveyed her dress, and Veranna’s skin flushed with panic, until, to her relief, the Prince beamed. “An unusual choice, but a ravishing decision. And lilies!” The prince stroked the petals of one. “A sign of ladylike purity. Delectable and pristine in one. Have you dressed for someone in mind?”

“What! Oh, no, no.” Veranna dipped her head. “Except to please you, I hope.”

“Good.”

The prince released one hand and turned quickly, pulling Veranna along after him. She stumbled at the first step, righting herself to match Cairod’s stride. Frowning at his back, Veranna’s cheek from his clipped retort, and she wondered at the Prince’s curtness. Temperamental, sometimes yes, but his demeanor tonight struck Veranna as…jovial and dismissive. She had pleased him, but…he seemed so distant. But his eyes showed how delighted he was! But why speak so, so… Veranna shook her head. Now was not the time for such thoughts. The Prince was happy; he had not disliked her dress, as she had feared.

As the Prince set her on a golden chair, Veranna hunted through the bodies for a sign of Iren.

“Are you comfortable?”

“Yes, thank you. I…there is no need–”

Cairod patted Veranna’s cheek.

“It wasn’t for you, TERM, but I wanted you to have the best seat.”

Puzzled, Veranna cast her gaze around the ballroom and sure enough, long couches had been moved up against the wall. Only Veranna’s chair was elevated; its white marble, lined with white upholstery, faced toward the widest swathe of the center glass. I glowed back at her.

“Have you… Is there a performance?”

“There will be tragedy.”

“What does–”

But the Prince walked away before she could finish. Veranna fought the impulse to tuck her knees and curl up in the chair. She ran a thumb over the hematite of her dress.

“Nervous?”

“Iren!” She jumped out of her chair to greet him. The swordsman had come up the side. “I didn’t see you enter!”

Iren grinned.

“I’m good at not being seen when I don’t want to be.”

Veranna sunk under the [memory of her life TK].

“I wonder if you could teach me how to do that.”

He arched an eyebrow.

“Who’d you like to avoid?”

“Oh, no one. It would just be nice to go unnoticed once in a while.”

Iren frowned.

“But unseen and ignored aren’t–”

A clear bell chimed the room to silence. Veranna quickly returned to her chair. Iren stood beside it, still frowning.

“I am pleased by your attendance!” Caidor’s voice chimed in the silence. Veranna could not see the Prince; he must be on the other side of the center glass. “I hope you all will not be disappointed! We have a fiendishly tragic tale to show!” Applause followed. “Yes, yes. Now listen: I heard this tale on my recent sojourn beyond the veil, the last before the Princess’ esteemed protector arrived.” The glass flickered, as if lit from within, and like a match, golden shapes began to play out the Prince’s words, puppets of fire.

“There was a small kingdom by the sea. Long overlooked by the might, its peace was disturbed by spies.”

Beside her, Veranna saw Iren stiffen.

“But unlucky fate threw an unfair roll; before a sentence could be passed, the spies escaped. The councilors persuaded the king that the spies were his responsibility.” Golden figures sat around a table, one darker/paler than the rest, sitting at the center. “He could not let the spies escape. For all the little kingdom knew was the spies bore the sigil of a grander, fiercer kingdom.” A symbol Veranna had never seen swelled up: an eight-spoked wheel with the bottom spoke longer than the others. “To this end, the king hunted the spies, tracking the spies like beasts.” The darker/paler figure from before stalked smaller, fainter shapes in a rippling, yellow forest. “And when the king found when the first one, he killed that spy. And when he found the next one, he did the same. And again. And again. And again.” The first slaughter repeated itself; the spray of blood burned red and bright against the glass. “Until the spies had been hunted down like vermin. This steadfast king, hands stained with human blood, returned too late; the message had escaped, and the fiercer kingdom invaded, the streets burned, and the people wailed.” Wails of pain and fear, high-pitched and undulating, screeched from the glass. “Where was the king? Gone. Until he had the grace to awaken the Princess unexpectantly.”

A fervent stirred among the Court. Hot, angry whispers turned Veranna’s skin to ice. Too stunned to move, she could only listen to her heartbeat. It couldn’t – but it did! How Iren knew herbs and woods and how to move unseen. He had said so, only moments ago! But, but –

Veranna hung her head in her hands; she could not look at him. It could not…and yet…yes, she believed. The Prince would never lie. But…but Iren…

Movement drew her out of her thoughts; the Prince had led a coalition of the Court near her seat. Iren still stood beside her chair, face like stone, eyes hard as adamantium. Why didn’t he move, run away?

“Brutality beasts in your veins like blood. What atrocity will you not commit, forsaker of his kingdom?” The Prince laughed, voice sharp and bright as glass. “You accused me of not caring for my people. Your tongue should have rooted at the hypocrisy! For I am still here and you – you are a king of corpses!”

Iren’s hand swung to his waist, and Veranna leapt out of her chair before he could draw his sword.

“You may be right, Prince, but it is still too cruel. If you thought us and the City in danger, would you not do everything in your power to save us? Wouldn’t you?” Veranna’s plea chimed, a dense, damp sound after Cairod’s melodious tone. “Iren did the same, to the best that he knew. Terrible and so very terrible. But I’ve seen it – it still hurts him, the lost of his people, his kingdom, his home.” Veranna’s brow furrowed; a shuddering, tinkling sensation stirred in her body. “You had not right to tell. You had no right.”

The coalition from the Court had backed away, and only Cairod stood in front of the chair. His wide eyes stared at her, the palest blue Veranna had ever seen. He moved his mouth and ground his teeth. A smile oozed onto his face.

“That may be, Princess, but a murderer is no protector for a princess.”

“Would he not be the best. For what could harm me, if he is near me?”

Cairod’s eyes narrowed.

“You do not know what you say.”

Veranna sagged.

“Yes, I probably don’t. But don’t send Iren away, please? Not yet.”

The prince smirked and mounted the dais. Seizing her hand, the Prince kissed her knuckle. His eyes flashed a frosty blue.

“For you, I would forgive every sin.”

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