Paix

 

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Introduction

My story starts with a phone call on the day before my birthday. It’s funny how the stupidest things can start the most amazing stories. I mean don’t get me wrong, my life was anything but ordinary before my eighteenth birthday. My dad divorced my mom when my younger twin siblings were born, and only left her with a car. When my older brother Ryan graduated high school, he joined the fight in Afghanistan to help pay the bills our double wide trailer forced upon us. Ryan died, which left me to take care of the family. My name is Grace, I love my family, and I’d do anything for them. Meelo is my little brother, he’s twelve, and his twin is Maiya. Meelo and Maiya do what they can for odd jobs around our trailer park in Marquette, Michigan. Meelo mows lawns and Maiya babysit, and they sell baked goods together after school. I work saturday mornings at a shop, and then work nights as a server, busser, and hostess at a steakhouse. The money problem is kind of important to how I got myself to where I am now. So here’s the beginning of the story.

    “Grace!” my mother called from the “living room” of the double wide. Even from the biggest room in the trailer, I could hear her with barely a muffle. I opened my bedroom door and stepped out, pulling my hair into a long black ponytail.

    “Yes mother?” I asked, she held the phone out to me, “it’s your Grandmother,” she said with a scowl. She had her salt and pepper hair up in a bun, and was wearing the uniform for the cleaning company she worked for. She held a buttered piece of toast in one hand, and a pen for the bills she was doing in the other. It explained the scowl.

    “Good, Oma always calls before my birthday,” I took the phone eagerly, and mom’s frown deepend.

    “It’s not Grandma Schlamm, it’s Grandmother Riche,” she said before taking a bite of toast. How did my mother divorce the richest family in Marquette and only get a car? Beats me why she didn’t fight for more considering he was the one divorcing her.

    “Hello?” I asked when I put the phone to my ear, a vaguely familiar voice on the other side replied.

    “Gracelynn Rose, how very nice to hear your voice again,” Grandmother Riche said. I rolled my eyes in the direction of my mom.

    “You as well, Grandmother.”

    “As per the agreement in the divorce contract of your parents, your father and I get you all of tomorrow and your family will receive a sum of ten thousand dollars. That is familiar to you, correct?” she asked. I sighed, remembering that I had to meet my father again to help this family. Ten thousand dollars was no more debt, maybe even another car.

    “Yes, this is familiar,” I said. It was like I could hear her smile on the other side.

    “Good, very good, your father and I will pick you up tomorrow at eight in the morning. You can be ready by then?” She said it like a question, but it was phrased like a demand.

    “Actually, I’ll drive to you. It’ll be easier for me to escape if I need to if I have my own car,” I said bluntly. Mom choked on her toast, and I heard Grandmother Riche start coughing as well. “I’ll be there at nine promptly. Have a nice day,” I said with a fake quirk, I hung up the phone and placed it in the wall bracket so it could charge. My mother took the time to regain her composure.

    “Gracelyn Rose, that was rude.”

    “So is not talking to your daughter until she’s eighteen and already hates you,” I pointed out. “Maiya! Meelo! We have to leave for school soon!” I yelled toward the twins’ bedroom. I could almost feel my mom roll her eyes at me as I grabbed the keys to the 2006 Honda Civic that I absolutely hated. But it was reliable, although not always the greatest in the Marquette snow.

    School went slowly, considering I was waiting for the next day. My eighteenth birthday promised some sort of change in my life and I was ready for it. Even though I had a couple of friends, they weren’t very good ones. There was Annalise and Teagan, who were dating, but Teagan was always hitting on me and Annalise was too dumb to notice, so I wasn’t close to either of them. Christina was my best friend, and even she and I weren’t all that close. She would occasionally invite me over to her trailer in a different park and we’d complain together about how much both of our lives really sucked. The difference between her and I was that she still had both of her parents. Like I said, it was time for a change. Christina was the only person that knew about the deal my dad had with my mom to meet me, and I was planning on keeping it that way. Christina was the kind of friend who didn’t care if I suddenly got money because she knew I had my own poor family to take care of, and I wouldn’t be able to take care of her, too. Teagan and Annalise wouldn’t understand that.

In a way, knowing that I didn’t have anyone waiting for me at school made it easier for me to skip the following day. After getting a “good luck, happy birthday” text from Christina, I hopped in the old Civic and took off. The drive felt long, and the radio stations the Upper Peninsula of Michigan had to offer didn’t help in the slightest. When I finally did roll up to the gates of my grandmother’s mansion, I had worked myself into a flurry of anger over being abandoned. They were millionaires, and for whatever stupid reason they didn’t want anything to do with our family until us kids were eighteen. How was that okay? By eighteen I was already almost too old for whatever money he gave us to help me. Maiya and Meelo, yes but not me. The money he did give would only pay for a little college. So why would I take it away from my younger siblings?

 
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Chapter 1

I arrived at my grandmother’s mansion to see that the front gate was already open. I slowly drove through, paying attention to the barren white landscape on either side of the perfectly plowed and salted red brick driveway. Her house slowly came into view and I almost felt disgusted. Contrary to my very distant memory of the place, it was bigger. The white victorian pillars held up a curved balcony above the bright red main door. I laughed, remembering that in Egypt, the color red represents chaos. That’s what my life had been since my father left. I parked next to my father’s black Mercedes sedan and waited in the car for just a moment. I tried to steel myself before seeing the two of them. I was ready for my father to ask me to sign papers agreeing that I’d never ask him for anything again. I was waiting for him to tell me that if I ever needed anything, no help would come from him. I had nothing but bad thoughts for the man that enabled my birth. My eyes were closed when he opened my door for me, so I jumped. I looked up at him silently and his face was as I remembered, but different at the same time. Where I had remembered his skin being smooth, slight creases crossed his forehead and next to his eyes. I felt like I should be mad that he had laugh lines when my mother did not. I unbuckled my seatbelt and stepped out of the car. He was a good seven inches taller than my 5’1” and I suddenly wondered why in the hell I was so short. Honestly I was trying to keep my thoughts away from the sudden and unwelcomed joy I felt from his presence. I wanted to hate him, and his green eyes that matched mine. And the black peppered hair that would be mine someday. I tried so hard to hate him. He must have seen it in my face because he wrapped his sport coat covered arms around me in a tight and unexpected hug. I froze.

    “I missed you, so much Grace,” he said, and that sparked my anger. My mind abandoned the happy feeling his presence and smile had provoked and replaced it with intense rage.

    “I bet you would have missed me less if you had come by once in awhile.” I spat, pushing him away. His face was distraught for a second before he composed himself and gestured toward the door.

    “It’s cold out here, and you’re barely wearing a coat. We should go inside where it’s warm.”

    “I’d have a better coat if my family wasn’t so poor,” I muttered to myself before heading toward the porch. Apparently it wasn’t as perfectly salted as the driveway, because I slipped backwards on the first step and landed in my father’s arms. “You should have let me fall, I could have sued,” I said bitterly. He helped me stand without remark and held my elbow (against my will) until we were all the way up the stairs, where I tore my arm out of his grip. He opened the door for me, ignoring my bitter remarks and letting me into the beautiful, grand house. I couldn’t help but be amazed by it. I had little moments in my memory where I remembered this place. I knew that I had been here before. I also knew I had loved coming here when I was a child.

    An old woman with unmistakable beauty stood in an archway leading to an intimate sitting room. She wore a perfect navy skirt with a matching blazer and a pale pink blouse. A gleaming string of pearls hung from her neck. Her white hair was pulled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. She was my grandmother. She smiled sharply at me and I fought an urge to flinch.

    “Gracelyn, it is so wonderful to finally see you again. I missed you so very much,” she said, reaching toward me to pull me into a hug. Shocked, I stepped back and into my father. She stopped.

    “You knew where I was,” I said, “You obviously know what my phone number is.”

    “Pardon?” She said with shock. I smirked.

    “I think you heard me. Didn’t you two have something you wanted to tell me?” I asked. Grandmother Riche swallowed awkwardly and swept an arm toward the sitting room. I chose the high backed wicker chair knowing I wouldn’t have to sit with either of them. They sat simultaneously.

    “Your father didn’t leave you for vain,” my Grandmother started, and I snorted.

“Gracie, what we’re about to tell you is going to sound crazy, but we’ll bring you after we’re done explaining. Okay?” Father asked, looking at me with a concern that was too fatherly.

“Fine, but you are not allowed to call me Gracie anymore. Either of you. No one calls me that anymore.”

“Gracelyn, you’re a princess,” Grandmother blurted in an unrefined way that I didn’t recognize coming from her. I laughed at her, really physically laughed in a way that I didn’t often do anymore. The two adults looked at me like I was crazy.

“There’s a world through a portal that your Grandmother reigned over, and you’re next in line.”

“You’re stupid if you think I’m dumb enough to believe this horseshit,” I pointed out, still laughing.

“Language!” my Grandmother barked, seemingly appalled. My father and I ignored her.

“Alright fine, we’ll take you there so you can see it for yourself. But you must be warned, it’s a magical world, and your guard will be there to greet you. They know everything about you. Do you understand?” Father asked, I rolled my eyes, waiting for them to realize how dumb they sounded. They stood, and gestured for me to follow. We walked out the back french doors to the spacious back gardens stretching over Grandmother’s acres of land. A locked wrought iron fence led the way into a hedge maze. I had no memory of ever walking through that gate, even though I knew that I’d played over almost every single inch of this land with my brother before my parents had split. The concept was odd to me, that two kids wouldn’t find their way past a locked gate just for the purpose of getting past the door.

Grandmother produced a key and inserted it into the padlock, she turned it, and swung it open. She gestured to me to walk through it, with a “come on tough girl” look. So I did, with a raised eyebrow, I walked calmly through the gate. My first sensation was like walking through a wind tunnel, my second was to lose my breakfast. Emerald green pine trees surrounded me, and a slick sweat started under my winter sweater. Summer was very suddenly assaulting me. A girl wearing a deep blue dress that ended at the top of her knees leapt gracefully off a large rock and padded toward me barefoot. Her pale blonde hair swung as she came to study me. Compared to her, I felt plain. Whoever this woman was, she was beautiful.

“Hello!” She chirped excitedly. She smiled at me and stuck her hand out to shake, which I took carefully. “My name is Haeley, like “Hayley” but spelled with an extra e instead of a y.”

“I’m-”

“Princess Gracelyn, I know! Your father said you’d be coming today!” her voice was high and melodic.

“Well that’s…. creepy,” I muttered to myself. She started to look proud of herself.

“I’m a water fairy, princess. I can control the currents. Would you like me to show you?” she asked. Haeley reminded me of a child that just wanted to impress an older sibling, although the way she moved made it seem like if she could fight, she’d be deadly.

“Sure,” I said wearily. My mind had not been prepared to handle this kind of shock and I was just trying to roll with the punches. I wondered where father and grandmother were, and why they weren’t in the forest yet. As my brain drifted, it snapped back to attention when Haeley made a sphere of water float toward me. Before it got any closer than a yard away a breeze picked up and blew it into a mist, wetting the dense forest grass before dying down again. Another girl walked out of the forest. She was beautiful, like Haeley was, but seemed more gentle. Her face was soft and rounded where Haeley’s was hard and chiseled. If Haeley was a river, the other woman was a cloud. Everything about her was white, even her irises were such a pale blue that they looked like pearls. She didn’t even touch the ground as she came closer to me, giving a lethargic smile before bowing low.

“Princess, my name is Anna. I am so pleased to finally make your acquaintance,” she said in a voice so soft and gentle I had to strain to actually hear her.

“It’s, nice to meet you too, Anna,” I said hesitantly.

“I am a fairy of the wind. I can fly higher than other fairies, and I can control the breezes,” she told me. That explained why Haeley’s sphere of water had been blown apart.

“Oh look! The portal is opening again,” Haeley announced, pointing excitedly. Wind rushed around us as I turned to see the wrought iron gate opening again. Cold light fell forth from the portal, and flurries of frost bitten winds and snow washed over me as my father and grandmother stepped together through the portal. My grandmother shook melting snow out of her gray hair with a smile. The next words out of her mouth sounded regal and imposing, even though it was the kindest I had ever seen her be to anyone.

“Ladies, you’ve met the princess! Gracelyn, I hope they’ve been inviting,” she said looking at me. I felt uncomfortable in everybody’s eyes. I couldn’t tell anymore if I was sweating because I was wearing winter clothes in a summer heat, or because I could feel four sets of eyes look to me.

“Yes, of course they were welcoming, Grandmother.”

“Good, good. But, um…” Grandmother Riche hesitated for a moment, “Where are Tessa and Keegan?”

“Oh they got in another fight up the trail. Keegan said that he thought the princess was very pretty and Tessa got offended,” Haeley explained. A blush crawled up my cheeks. It was weird thinking a person you didn’t even know thought you were pretty.

“I believe gorgeous was the word Keegan had used,” Anna corrected softly. Haeley rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, gorgeous, whatever. It means the same thing.”

“Precise language is important, Haeley,” Anna admonished. Haeley rolled her eyes so I was the only one that could see it. I decided right there that I liked her.

“Ah young love, there’s nothing like it,” my father lamented. I glared at him until he grew uncomfortable. His “young love” was the reason my siblings and I were even born. Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate his acting like love in any form was no big deal.

“Anyway, come on. We should go meet up with them. Make sure Tessa doesn’t kill Keegan,” Haeley chirped, saving my father from awkwardly having to salvage any of our conversation. Anna floated up a soft pine trail and we followed. I heard the commotion and smelled smoke before I saw the two forms.

“Yeah if she’s so pretty, maybe you should date her!” A raspy female voice exclaimed. Fire erupted, visible through the trees.

“Tessa, don’t be like that! You know I love you!” A male voice replied. A sound like stone sliding against stone told me that the male, Keegan, was losing the fight against his fire-flinging girlfriend. Guilt washed over me at being the reason for a couple’s unrest.

“We’re done, Keegan. Over!” Tessa yelled.

“Tessa! Keegan! Enough fighting, the royal family is here!” the sound of Anna’s voice on the wind washed away from us toward the fighting couple. Anna swept her arm gracefully, sending the words through the trees. When the breeze hit them, the two stopped and faced the woods as we came into the clearing. They dropped into low bows at the same time. Hands crossed in a fist in front of them. I swallowed nervously. Tessa looked intimidating. She had thick ropes of muscle on her arms and her legs bulged with power. She wore a deep red armoured tank top and matching red leather pants, and her tan skinned hands looked hard and calloused. A knife sat in it’s sheathe on her right leg, and a sword hung from her left hip. If “deadly” could be translated to a person, she’d be it. She looked up at me with glowing orange eyes, then gave me a smirk and brushed her tight brown curls out of her face. Keegan on the other hand looked much more kindly. He was tan too, but looked pale compared to Tessa. He had short jet black hair and a gruff beard to match. His features were handsome, and his green eyes were the color of fresh grass after a hard rain. He smiled at me as he watched me watching him. My dad spoke to the two.

“Tessa, will you be able to continue to fight for and protect the princess? If not you will be removed and Kaelin will take your place on the guard.”

“I will continue to fight, sire. It is my duty,” she replied respectfully.

“Do not dishonor your family by being lax in your duty to protect my daughter. The first sign your break up will affect either of your abilities to protect Gracelyn, the antagonist will be replaced immediately. Am I understood?” He asked. I had to respect my father, he played the regal part well.

“Yes, sire. We apologize” they said in unison, then stood. Without word Tessa took point of the group and Keegan brought up the rear. Anna walked next to my grandmother, and Haeley treaded gracefully by my side.

“They're always arguing,” Haeley whispered to me. Giving me the down low on the gossip of what looked to be my assigned guard.

“We were all picked because of our relationship to the royal family, and our abilities. I'm the best healer in my family, and Anna is uncontestedly the best communicator and point flier in the entire castle. She can spread words on the wind to an entire army. And the wings of air fairies are bigger than the wings of other elemental fairies. Tessa won't admit it, but we all know Anna outranks us, she's basically our leader. Speaking of Tessa. It was between her and her cousin Kaelin for the spot she's in. Kaelin is just as good at controlling her magic and fighting as Tessa, but since Keegan and Tessa are dating, your father agreed to choose Tessa so the group wouldn't be four people who didn't know each other. Then there's Keegan, he can do something with the earth not many earth fairies can do. He can feel through it. Nothing too major yet, but he can tell when someone or something has been over it. The ground talks to him, it tells him information that he needs to know. It trusts him.”

“So you're all basically the best of the best and I'm just… Human?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Don't be silly. When your power reveals itself, you're going to be more powerful than any fairy in the entire kingdom. Maybe even your own family.”

“How do you know?” I asked, we were whispering but my father had turned his head toward me slightly, so I knew he was listening.

“I can sense it on you. You're going to be very powerful. Oh look! There's the castle!” She exclaimed. Ahead of us a castle of white stone stood out of the face of the mountain. A big rose window gleamed in the sunlight and I was taken by its beauty.

“That's the castle?” I asked, breathless. She nodded with a smile. We walked up the path toward the castle and white horses with armored riders trotted toward us. Three horses trotted behind them. One was jet black and the other two were gray dappled. The jet black horse stared straight at me and I got a feeling of instant connection.

“Ah good! We won’t have to walk into the castle. We can ride on horseback,” grandmother said, obviously tired. One of the dappled greys made her way to my Grandmother, who immediately mounted, the other horse did the same with my father. The black horse slowly approached me, nose extended to me. Waiting. I gently lifted a hand to him, letting him sniff me. Growing up, I had ridden horses at my other Grandmother’s farm. When the black horse sniffed my hand, I pressed my nose to his and exhaled. When he blew back in my face I knew he accepted me. A voice spoke in my mind. My name is Ayzure. We have been bonded. No matter where you go, I will always be there with you. But you might not always know it. You should not be afraid, because I will protect you in anyway I can.

Ayzure, you will have to be patient with me, I don’t know how I’m going to handle the new shock of being here, I don’t understand any of this.

You are strong, Gracelyn. I can see inside you that you are not panicked. I can tell that you are actually at peace. Because you are home. I will carry you to the castle.

Thank you, Ayzure.

I mounted Ayzure without another word. With the horses it took us ten minutes to get into the castle, and I was greeted by people trying to reach out and touch me. Ayzure was calm, but I was panicked. Unfamiliar faces called my name, they told me they were happy to see me. They said that they loved me. Ayzure could tell that I didn’t like the attention and did his best to get me to the stables as quickly as he could. There I unsaddled him and went to pick up the curry comb sitting on a table when a stable hand stopped me.

“Princess, we’ll do that. You’re needed inside,” he said to me gently, taking the comb from me. I frowned at him until Ayzure’s voice spoke to me again.

The boy will take care of me as he has been doing since before you even knew of the kingdom of Paix. You have to go get fitted for a dress for the dinner and ball tonight.

Okay fine, but from now on, I will comb and wash and feed you. You are my horse and I am your human. From now on, I take care of you as much as you take care of me.

After he gave me a sigh and an agreement, I leave the stable, casting a thanks to the stable hand behind me. My father had been waiting for me at the door, face still as stone. I took a breath as he led me from the covered path of the stone stable toward what looked to be a kitchen. I had to prepare myself for the castle, wild thoughts were running through my head. I imagined Versailles, with all the plush rooms and a hall full of mirrors.

 
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Chapter 2

The castle of Paix did not disappoint. After the kitchen, we entered a large dining room. While the outside of the castle had been stone, the inside was wood. Dark cherry panels covered the stone walls and added a feeling of earthy warmth to the large dining space. A heavy beech table occupied the middle of the room. At one end, a chair with a high regal back and sprawling elegant arm rests faced the bottom quarter of the rose window I had been able to see from the sparse woods directly under the castle, the other chairs were more plain. The scenes depicted in the stained glass showed merriment and feasting. Seemingly unfazed by the sheer beauty of the castle, my father let me look at the dining room for a minute before sweeping me along by his gentle hold on my elbow. Outside the dining room was just a normal hall with polished marble floors and long windows giving a view of the courtyard across from more of the rose window facing the north. Instead I looked south and all the people that lived within the walls of the castle going about their work. As I was led down the hall I watched men chopping wood and women stacking it, one woman was sewing a pocket on a shirt. There was a man holding a crying child. Father opened a door at the end of the hall and I slid through. It must have been the throne room. Most of the rose window occupied this room. Royal women being crowned were depicted in this window. One scene reminded me of my grandmother, the woman looked like her, and wore a golden gown as she kneeled infront of a papal servant. Two winged fairies stood on either side of her, heads bowed in respect. My grandmother cleared her throat, she was sitting on the throne. It had a high sprawling back made of gold and red velvet. A Phoenix was made of gold leafing, reaching up toward the high arched ceiling. My grandmother looked regal in her blush colored long dress. Like a true queen.

“Gracelyn, you’re a princess of the kingdom of Paix. There is a banquet and a ball tonight at which you will meet everyone in the kingdom, and even some ambassadors from surrounding kingdoms. Are you okay with that?” she asked. A surge of pride rolled through me as I said “yes” with barely a thought. Dances, and dresses, and banquets was what I was born for. I was the heir to a throne, a princess. I could move my mother and siblings to Paix, and we could have a good life. A wealthy, safe, castle life. I figured I could ask for anything. “Good, Ryta and Trysta will bring you to your room and start having you fitted for a ball gown, and other more appropriate court gowns. I will see you later,” she dismissed me and then waved my father to her, and they spoke in hushed tones as two old fairies with hunched over backs and bright, long wings escorted me out of the throne room.

I studied the two women’s wings as they walked ahead of me and I wondered if that was what I would look like when I grew to be the same age as them. But then again, they weren’t much older than my grandmother, and her wings weren’t visible. As if Keegan could read my mind, he fell into step with me and started explaining.

“Their wings are visible because they took a vow of service and silence. They communicate by telepathy. But since you’re new they haven’t formed the bond with you. Trysta is my grandma, so I’m here to act as translator for you,” he said at a million miles a minute. My mouth opened and closed again once before I could think of what to say.

“Thank you,” I said. A vow of service and silence? I asked myself, wondering what exactly he had meant. Service to the crown probably? But why must they take the vow of silence.

“It’s so they can be given orders by your grandmother that other people can’t hear. Like if a foreign diplomat is here threatening war, your grandmother can order troops to be assembled without the diplomat being informed. It’s how we’ve won all of our battles against our enemies so far,” Keegan said. I wondered if Ryta and Trysta could read my mind but not speak to me. “That’s correct,” Keegan answered my question.

“Well it’s freaking me out, I don’t want you in my head,” I said to him. He smirked at me.

“Why, have some thoughts about me you don’t want to share?”

“I hardly know you!” I exclaimed, mortified. I couldn’t possibly have a crush on someone I hardly knew.

“So? I’m a charming man,”

“And you also just got broken up with, literally today. I don’t do rebounds,” I informed him. He just shrugged his shoulders with the same smirk.

“Whatever you say, sweetheart,” he said airily. Agitated, I almost bumped into the wings of Ryta as she stopped in front of a heavy wooden door. The two women pushed open the door and led me through. My bedroom was bigger than the entire trailer back home. Rich looking tapestries covered the stone walls, and thick woven rugs made the cold floor warm. The king sized bed was just about the same size as my entire room in the trailer. The four posts were carved with the same phoenix's that were carved into my Grandmother’s throne, and the bedding was a rich red. “This is your room. From the balcony you can see the entire courtyard, but the glass is enchanted, so no one on the grounds can see into your room.” Golden daylight streamed in the glass that took up the entire east facing wall. I walked over to it, and a golden door knob appeared as I neared it, interrupting the perfectly smooth glass with a door.

“So I have my own balcony and everything,” I said, I saw Keegan nod in the glass.

“Ryta and Trysta have to get to work on your ball gown for tonight if you want it to be ready to wear. The wash room is right there, they’ve put a robe for you to change into in there,” Keegan basically ordered me into the bathroom. I went silently. There was a white fluffy robe sitting neatly folded on the white and black marble sink. I stripped myself of the sweat soaked sweater and jeans I’d been wearing, and took a second to wash the stink off myself with the cool water from the sink. Magic made the water pressure better in Paix than any shower or sink I’d ever used back home. I laughed inwardly as I slipped the cool robe over my shoulders. I took the comfort of keeping my own undergarments on. If they were going to make me take the robe off with Keegan in the room, at least I wouldn’t be completely naked.

Turns out, the two women already knew my size and just needed to figure out which colors would look best with my dark hair and green eyes. They argued silently between a bright red (which Trysta apparently loved) and a sky blue that Ryta chose. But I wanted neither. An emerald green that matched the shade of my eyes lay on the table untouched by either fairy. Finally looking at me, Ryta snatched the swatch of fabric from the table and held it up to my eyes, and then nudged Trysta to pay attention. They looked into each other’s eyes for a second, and relayed what they were saying.

“They think the emerald is pretty with your eyes, but you’re too pale to wear it. They want to try you with a lighter shade but they can’t decide which one.”

“They should go darker, if they go much lighter it’ll wash me out. But too dark would do the same,” I replied. Trysta nodded in agreement to me. With a twinkle in her eye, she held the emerald swatch in one hand, and with the other, waved her hand down it. The fabric turned to a chiffon with undertones of a swirling gold. It was perfect. They both nodded at me, then at Keegan and the three of them left my room.

“I’ll see you later, Grace,” Keegan called as he shut my door. With them gone, I had a chance to explore my room. Looking through the cabinet on the wall, I saw generically sized regal dresses and a few different flat shoes. There was nothing special or eye catching about the dresses, but they were “appropriate” for the princess to wear until her own wardrobe was created. I pulled a pain gray dress that matched Haeley’s in length out of the closet and placed it carefully on the bed. The fashion here in Paix was a mix of modern and Victorian. Women wore dresses, but they ranged from knee to ankle length, except for in the case of the queen. She always wore long sweeping dresses with no expense spared. Clothing was very important in this kingdom.

Wearing the dress (which was too big in the bust) and a pair of flats (which were too narrow in the toes), I ventured out of my room. I walked back past the throne room, and then past the dining room too. People walked past me, dressed in tunics and leather pants, or dresses much like mine. Even though I was dressed very much like a commoner, they knew who I was and they whispered to each other about me. One woman who looked like my mom made an eye contact with me that I couldn’t break. We watched each other walk away, and I craned my neck when she turned a corner so I could tell if she was still looking at me. A hard wall stopped my forward progress and a chill ran up my spine. The hair on the nape of my neck stood on end when I turned around. The man was not much taller than me, but he was imposing. He had short brown hair and dull red eyes. He looked kind but a chill made me shiver.

“Watch where you’re going, princess,” he said with a touch of humor. He smiled at me, and I floundered for something to say. His dark red tunic stretched across his chest and his muscled arms were bare. The guy looked lean and strong. A long doubled edged sword was slung across his back. This guy looked just as deadly as Tessa had.

“I apologize…” I waited for him to fill in his name, and I wasn’t disappointed.

“Kaelin,” he provided, realization dawned on me.

“You’re the one that would be in Tessa’s spot if she hadn’t been dating Keegan, aren’t you?” I asked, and then clapped a hand over my mouth. “Sorry, that was rude,” he smirked.

“Yes, I would have been on your honor guard if it weren’t for Tessa,” I couldn’t help but flinch when Kaelin moved his arms, like I assumed he was going to hit me. I knew my discomfort around him was unfounded and I hoped he hadn’t noticed me flinch. “I’ve got training to get to, but you should come by the training quarters some time, I’ll help you put some muscle on those arms,” he pinched my weak biceps, “I can get you ready to handle any threats you may face here,” he said. He walked away before I could form an answer. Rubbing my nervous hands on the skirt of my dress, I continued down the hall, trying not to think about the strange Kaelin. I finally found a door that led outside, and burst through it. Compared to the bitter winter of northern Michigan, the breezy summer of Paix was sweltering. I walked up the cobblestone path toward a wall of hedge that looked like the maze at grandma’s. They were probably of the same plant, I realized. This hedge maze wasn’t blocked by a locked gate, and it was more sprawling and elaborate than the one in Marquette. I walked down the hill toward it, and had almost entered it’s inviting branches when I head Keegan calling my name from the castle. I turned around and started the journey back, vowing to return to continue going through the maze when I had free time.

In the throne room again I was told that I would be started on a strict self defense training regime that I’d have to follow even if I wasn’t in the country. Guess who would be my trainer for the eight hours a day I’d have to be in the arena? Kaelin of course, because he needed a job since he wasn’t on my security detail. The idea of spending eight hours alone with him surrounded by various weapons wasn’t exactly the most appealing situation I’d be in. My biggest concern would be him joining me in Marquette to continue my training and protect me. Kaelin stood in the corner of the room watching as all the information was given to me. His face was stone still, and no emotion showed on it. I tried to copy that, but I’m not sure that I kept my face as blank as he was able to.

“Do you accept this?” Grandmother asked, as if I had a choice. I shrugged. “Good, after the ball tonight Kaelin will take you back to Marquette so you can talk to your mother, and since it will be late the two of you will stay there, and then return in the morning.”

“I have one condition. I accept all of my duties here, but my mom and the twins have to be able to move here too.”

“We were planning on moving them here if they wanted to,” dad said, finally speaking from his post next to my grandmother. “I have to talk to your mother, which is why I asked to go with you and Kaelin.”

“But, I wasn’t sure you’d like that, given the history with your father. So I said the decision was up to you,” Grandmother finished, inclining her crowned head in my direction. It took me a moment to process what they were saying. Father, Kaelin and I all traveling back to my house and packing up the trailer.

“Of course, you can come too. I… I don’t think I’m ready to be alone with anyone from Paix yet anyway,” I swallowed, stealing a glance at Kaelin. He returned my gaze with a confused look. I was probably crazy for feeling so weird about him.

“Understandable. You’ll leave tonight after the ball. You have,” she looked at a simple watch on her wrist. “About an hour to get ready, we’ll see you there.”

With that I was dismissed and Kaelin followed me out of the room. I hadn’t even noticed that the light had started becoming golden outside the window.

“Do you not trust me, princess?” Kaelin called, catching up with me while I tried to hurry to my bedroom.

“I don’t know you well enough to know whether or not I can trust you,” I pointed out. He almost looked upset.

“It is my duty to protect you, princess. I would never do anything to harm you,”

“I… I know. But I still don’t know you well enough to want to travel alone with you. You know? It’s nothing against you. Just my own misgivings,” I tried to reassure him.

“Will you save me a dance at your ball?” he asked, and I was taken aback. Before I could reply Keegan swooped out of nowhere and took me by the arm.
    “Sorry Kaelin, I’m under orders to help the princess get ready,” he gently pulled me toward the door to my room.

“Glad to see your job as a ladies’ maid is well done, Keegan,” Kaelin started slightly up at Keegan, but if they were to fight, my money would probably have backed Kaelin.

“And what’s your job again? Cleaning the stalls?”

“Well actually I’m accompanying Princess Gracelyn back to her home tonight after the ball. And bringing her and her family back when they’re ready,” Kaelin said pointedly. An angry twitch distorted Keegan’s face before he smirked.

“Runner duty, nice,” Keegan motioned to the long dress bag he was holding. “Come along, Princess.”

“Excuse me, but I can get myself ready on my own,” I took the dress from him before I heard soft footsteps running hastily down the hall.

“Oh thank the Goddess!” Haeley exclaimed, catching up to us. She gently took the dress from me. “I was so worried when I couldn’t find your dress, Princess. But I guess Keegan took it before I did.”

“So you’re not actually the one who is supposed to help me get ready tonight?” I clarified, looking from her to Keegan pointedly.

“Hey don’t look at me, I was just delivering a dress,” Keegan held his hands up for peace.

“You’ll have your dance tonight, Kaelin,” I finally answered him. I took my arm away from Keegan and looped it into Haeley’s and we walked away together.

“That was crazy. I wonder why Keegan acted like that with Kaelin, they used to be friends,” Haeley said.

“Do you think it had anything to do with the fact that Kaelin isn’t on my honor guard because of Keegan’s relationship with Tessa?” I asked as we entered my bedroom. Haeley shrugged before hanging my dress on the bar holding the curtains to my canopy bed.

“I don’t know maybe. Okay take that dress off let’s get you into this thing so I can decided how to do your hair and makeup.”

“Alright alright, bossy,” I said, unbuttoning the dress I was wearing and letting it drop to a pool at my feet. Haeley unzipped the dress bag and gently pulled the green and gold dress out of it. I slipped into it, and was amazed how well it fit me. It made me look like I had curves that I knew I didn’t, and the tight banded corset contrasted interestingly against the flowy skirt. I did a little twirl, the skirt circling around me. Haeley laughed and then clapped. She then helped me out of it and gave me my robe, and we started with my hair, since the dress was strapless, my long black hair was being efficiently steam curled by Haeley’s amazing ability with water. She did my makeup carefully, and I watched as night fell outside my window. The sunset spread across the sky like rosy fingers stretching over the kingdom. The sky of Paix had more color in it than anywhere else I'd ever been. The pink was vivid enough to be paint on a canvas, and the orange caressed it on either side, soft and gentle. Haeley pulling back from my face snapped my attention back to her.

“You look amazing,” she said, looking at me like I was the sky. I blinked twice at her.

“All because of you,” I said with a small smile. She shook her head, smiling grandly at me.

“No, this really is all you. Go look while I put my own gown on,” she motioned to the mirror. I grabbed my dress first and slipped into it, Haeley corseted it tighter and I stepped in front of the mirror. I didn't even recognize myself, I looked regal and beautiful, Gracelyn Rose Riche was not the person standing in the mirror in my place.

“Oh I almost forgot!” Haeley exclaimed, she went into my wardrobe and pulled a lever, it swung away from the wall and revealed a walk in closet. I probably never would have noticed that before if she hadn't showed it to me. She took a step in and then brought a box back to me. She opened it, bending to show me its contents. I carefully lifted the beautiful tiara out, breathless. I'm actually legitimately a princess. This is all real! I thought. Haeley placed the box on my vanity and then helped me put the tiara on my head, then clasped the matching necklace around my neck. I was officially a princess.

“Very regal, Princess,” Haeley said then motioned to the mirror again, I walked to it, taking in my reflection for a couple minutes. She was right. I was regal in every sense of the word.

“Let me get dressed and the rest of your honor guard should be here any moment,” Haeley took her own dress bag into my bathroom and shut the door. On cue, a knock sounded. I let Anna, who wore a simple pale blue dress, and Tessa into the room. Her deep red dress was elegant but still simple. Apparently I was to stand out amongst my companions. Keegan followed Tessa wearing a black suit and a forest green bow tie. Haeley emerged in her river blue dress. I was catching on to the elemental theme, of course.

“Position. Anna lead, Haeley and I will walk on either side of you, Tessa will bring up the rear. All smiles everyone, let’s do this,” Keegan arranged us, and then Anna started leading us down the hallway. I could hear a string quartet playing down the stairs, and Anna led us right toward it. She led us past the main entrance toward a part of the castle I had yet to explore. A winding staircase very much like the one that was in my Grandmother’s house in Marquette led down into a beautiful dining room. Anna descended the stairs first, the signal for people to look toward the stairs. Her dress shimmered in the lights, and people “awwed” when she stood to the side. I tried to step forward, assuming it was my turn but Tessa’s warm hand grabbed me from behind to stop me, surprisingly gentle.

“You go last, it’s your royal debut. Your subjects have to have some sort of anticipation before they actually see you,” she explained. I wondered what her sudden reason for being so nice was, and then realized that my Grandmother was down the stairs clearly within earshot. Keegan went next, there was sparse applause, and then Haeley followed with more fanfare, and finally Tessa. With nerves making my hands shake I took a big breath in and counted to ten, then slowly started my descent. The crowd went quiet as they watched me, when I reached the bottom Grandmother grabbed my hand and pulled me toward her. She beamed an infectious smile at everyone and I couldn’t help but smile too.

“I am very proud to introduce you all to my beautiful granddaughter, Gracelyn Rose. She has been living in America for years, but now she’s here and she is amazing. Please welcome her, because someday she will be your queen,” I smiled at everyone and tried to think of something legitimate to say. They obviously didn’t think that I needed to because Grandmother said “enjoy the party!” Before I could issue a word. A string quartet started playing again and everyone started talking. A tall man with short hair the color of night, and a strong build walked up to me and bowed low, a salacious smile disecting his handsome face.

“Well hello, beautiful princess, I’m Prince Yaran from the kingdom of Taedom. I don’t expect you to know where that is. But it’s south of here. A very nice place for us to vacation when we get married,” he said. I took a small step back in surprise.

“Woah there, I’m too young to start thinking about who I’m going to marry, and certainly where my husband and I will vacation when I have one,” I said by way of rejecting him.

“By tradition, a princess must marry a prince,” Yaran said, an anger starting in his face. My inner sass started to reply before my Grandmother who was still by my side, interjected.

“That is not the tradition here, Yaran and you know that,” Grandmother said feistily. I silently thanked her. “Our Queens have the freedom to choose whoever they want for a husband since he does not rule Paix.”

“You insolent wom…” Kaelin stepped out of the crowd and gently took my hand, his presence immediately silenced Prince Yaran and sent a race of shivers up my spine. Anger crawled up my face in a heat

“Prince Yaran, when you are on Paix territory I suggest you follow our laws, especially if you don’t want to be executed for calling our Monarch anything but ‘your Highness,’” Kaelin interrupted. “Now excuse us, the princess promised me a dance.”

Kaelin led me onto the dance floor and gently caressed my shaking hands, steadying them.

“He just made me so mad,” I told him, still fuming. Kaelin nodded, and I looked up at him ever so slightly.

“Taedom is basically the complete opposite of Paix. Their women have no power and no stature. At least here men can do anything except singlehandedly rule Paix.”

“So basically I can marry anyone?”

“Exactly. And since her majesty had a son but no daughters, you became heir the moment you were born.”

“Wow, talk about being born entitled.” I commented. The music started and the cadence was spilling around the room when Kaelin took my hands. It didn’t even matter that I didn’t know the steps, he showed me them. From anyone else’s perspective it probably looked like I had grown up dancing these steps. I laughed in wonder at how easy it was to dance with Kaelin. The first song ended and I felt dizzy but happy all the same.

“Come on, let’s get you seated for the banquet,” we made our way off the floor and I saw Tessa and Keegan dancing. Keegan’s eyes landed on me fiercely. But Tessa looked radiantly happy. She really did love him, I realized. But Keegan’s eyes looked at my hand linked with Kaelin’s with a territorial hunger. I drew myself closer to Kaelin to protect myself from Keegan’s hateful gaze. Kaelin sat me next to my grandmother but had to move down the table. Prince Yaran took the spot next to me and people started sitting down around us, so I couldn’t escape from him. His olive skin seemed darker by the candlelight of the dining hall.

“Hello, Princess Gracelyn,” he said with a salacious smile splitting his face.

“Prince Yaran,” I replied with a polite smile. Grandmother sat at her throne and gave me a kind smile, her silver hair glowing in a perfectly regal waterfall under her golden crown.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” She asked, taking my attention away from the foreign dignitary at my side.

“Yes, it’s wonderful,” I replied and a smile shaped her face again.

“I remember my pre-coronation ball as well, a lot of people were already trying to court me.”

“Am I really going to have to root through a bunch of suitors?” I asked her, she gave me a sympathetic face and nodded.

“You are going to have to get married, I’m afraid, my dear,” I rolled my eyes and she laughed. Yaran exhaled and I shot him a sidelong look.

“Your best course of action would be to marry me, we could have wonderful sons,” he said. I started coughing from surprise. Kaelin looked at me from further down the table and I just shook my head at him.

“I’m not considering marriage for awhile, Prince Yaran, I apologize,” I told him. His dark eyes looked into mine and I couldn’t deny that he was intimidating. Handsome, but intimidating.

“You will be soon,” Yaran told me, “And when the courting games start I will be here.”

“I will keep that in mind,” I said politely.

Dinner progressed with three courses and the beginning appetizers set high expectations for an amazing dinner, which it was. The appetizers were a chive puff pastry baked with asiago, and dinner was a roasted turkey and a roasted pig that tasted amazing. Their side dishes were mashed potatoes with onion and cheese, and a turkey stuffing better than any thanksgiving I’d ever had. They passed fresh baked bread around before dessert, which was a chocolate raspberry cake that melted in my mouth. We waited about fifteen minutes after dinner, during which I got to know my Grandmother even better after our years apart. This was mainly so I didn’t have to talk to Yaran. When the music started playing again Keegan found me before Kaelin did. Keegan grabbed me possessively by the arm and gave me a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. I looked down on his grip and then looked at Yaran.

“Prince Yaran, would you like to dance with me?” I asked sweetly, tearing my arm away from Keegan. Yaran looked at me surprised, but nodded and Keegan looked at me open mouthed. I took Yaran’s outstretched hand and followed him onto the dance floor. The dance was slow and intimate and I cursed myself for putting myself in this situation with Prince Yaran. I tried to look anywhere but at him, where the only place his eyes landed were on me.

“You look very beautiful tonight, Princess. I am sure your kingdom is happy to have you here,” he finally spoke in a silken whisper. His breath tickled the back of my neck as he leaned in to be heard.

“Thank you, Prince Yaran, you are very kind,” I tried to remember all the stupid etiquette shit from the hundreds of books I’ve read. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing and have it blow up in my face.

“Taedom is looking for change, Princess. Our people are growing restless in the streets, our women are starting to refuse to bare children. I need help to make the changes necessary,” Prince Yaran’s voice dropped even more and I strained to hear his plea. His tone was suddenly very serious, with a hint of fear.

“What?” I asked, “Please explain more,”

“Taedom needs the help of Paix to make new laws that will put all of our citizens to rest. We’re polar opposites, we need to balance each other,” he said. It sounded like another ploy to get me to consider marrying him.

“I’m sure Paix can help without giving you my hand in marriage,” I basically growled in Yaran’s ear. The song ended and I didn’t give him a chance to say anything else, I walked away from him. A song that was fast and light spilled around the room and my dad found me and looped his arm around my shoulders. His smile was infectious. He was happy in a way that I had never seen him before, and I wished my mom was there to see it too. I missed home in a sudden flash. My father’s familiar scent made me yearn for our old house. We had lived in a large farmhouse before the divorce. My favorite thing about it had been the bay window I used to curl up with my mom in, and she would read to me. Father pulled me into a circle of people and out of my train of thoughts, Keegan was on my other side, and Tessa next to him. He linked hands with me, and with her, and my father held my other hand gently. Like he was afraid I'd pull away from him. The music started again, a quick jig that signaled the quick running into the circle and the turning toward our partners. My dad turned me to him and quickly showed me the steps. I'd give him this one dance, but he still had to explain why he had left us for so many years. He wasn't getting off the hook easily.

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